Posted by The Daily Camera
By Sean Maher, CEO
There are exciting changes happening on the Hill. After years of frustrating decline, two new hotels and a major conference center are about to turn things around in a big way.
Together these projects will boast 450 hotel rooms, over 25,000 square feet of meeting space and parking for more than 500 cars. They are the catalyst for change on the Hill that has been lacking for decades. For the first time, Boulder will be able to host major academic, government and business gatherings. The ballroom at the Limelight Hotel will comfortably seat 1,000 people which is comparable to the big hotels in Denver.
That is exciting news for Boulder but it will also exacerbate a big and growing problem.
Anyone meeting or staying on the Hill is going to go downtown to eat, shop and enjoy Pearl Street. When large events are happening, this could add thousands of vehicles per week or even per day to Broadway which is already a congested mess during busy times.
It is time for the city of Boulder to get serious and look for mobility solutions to transport people between the new conference center and downtown without just cramming more cars and buses onto an already clogged street. One idea that has been discussed (and laughed at) for years is a gondola that would move passengers between a station on Grandview and another one downtown — either in Central Park or a location closer to the Mall.
Critics say it’s a pipe dream that could never work. However, a study done in 2020 for Boulder by the Rockefeller Foundation showed it was actually quite feasible. Gondolas are less expensive and much less intrusive to build than common alternatives like streetcars that run on rails. And it could silently move thousands of people per hour between the Hill and downtown without emissions and without adding a single vehicle to Broadway. In fact, it would likely reduce traffic substantially.
Another idea presented in the new Downtown Boulder Vision Plan is to build a grand new elevated walkway that would offer a gradual grade, public art installations and great lighting. This Boulder version of the famous High Line in Manhattan would be multi-use and could include lanes for pedestrians, bicyclists and electric bikes and scooters.
Others have suggested exploring moving walkways, escalators and elevators to move people up and down the 70-foot vertical drop that separates downtown and University Hill. Maybe small electric shuttles could operate on the Boulder High Line to transport passengers with physical limitations.
There is no doubt other potential solutions have not even been considered yet. I am not advocating for any one idea over the others. We should take a serious look at all of the alternatives and come up with a plan to fix a problem that is about to get even worse than it is.
The city of Boulder should invest in a strategic mobility study to evaluate the various modes that could move people up and down the hill efficiently and take some pressure off an extremely overcrowded street.
We have about two years before these new hotels start hosting major events. Whatever the solution is, it will not be in place by the time they open. But we could have a plan in place, funding lined up and an end in sight to the mess on Broadway.
Sean Maher is the CEO of RRC Associates in Boulder. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org to blog