Steamboat Pilot & Today, Aug. 20, on expanding bus services:
Driving the Interstate 70 corridor from Denver into the mountains and back again can be a gauntlet on any given day but especially during the ski season. Will the car in front of you spin out and stall traffic for miles? Will I-70 remain open or will you have to hunt for a place to stay the night in Silverthorne? Can you get on the road early enough to avoid a five-hour drive from Denver to Steamboat?
All of these scenarios are experienced by motorists trying to navigate I-70 during peak winter travel times, and that is why we were thrilled to learn that Steamboat Springs will be added to the Bustang regional bus route by January 2021.
Bustang is an express bus service line operated by the Colorado Department of Transportation, which currently runs along I-70 and I-25. The West Route runs from Denver to Grand Junction with stops at Idaho Springs, Frisco, Vail, Eagle and Glenwood Springs, Rifle and Parachute.
The Steamboat route would be operated as a Bustang outrider route between Frisco and Steamboat. The bus would travel along Colorado Highway 9 with a stop in Kremmling, and a CDOT spokesman said the route could eventually be expanded to serve Hayden, including the Yampa Valley Regional Airport, and Craig. The bus fare has not been established but based on current pricing on similar routes, fares could range from $12 to $30.
In connection with reporting on the Bustang expansion to Steamboat, we were surprised to learn that Steamboat Resort turned down the opportunity to support the pilot "SnowStang" program that proposes to provide direct bus routes from Denver to specific ski resorts on weekends and peak ski days.
Participation required the resort to pay 40% of the cost of the service, which Steamboat Springs City Council member Heather Sloop said equates to an investment of $63,000. We think that's a small price to pay for a service that stands to benefit the resort and its customers, especially Ikon Pass holders on the Front Range seeking an easier way to get Steamboat. We also think a regional bus would be a nice complement to the local air program, which the resort already subsidizes.
Sloop floated the idea that maybe the city could cover the cost of getting the pilot transportation program started here, and we think that's a generous offer. We would like to see discussions continue, and we strongly encourage the resort to revisit the proposal and consider sharing the cost with the city.
CDOT said Bustang could begin serving Steamboat earlier than 2021, and we think a partnership between the resort and the city on the SnowStang could help accelerate the Bustang timeline. We also see this as another opportunity for the city and resort to collaborate in light of the fact the two entities are currently working through a potential partnership on the operation of Howelsen Hill.
We'd also note that Bustang is not just a service for tourists. If the route is expanded to Craig and from there to Rifle and Grand Junction, area veterans would have an easier and more affordable way to access medical services at the VA hospital in Grand Junction, which may be an added bonus. Bustang could also serve to reduce traffic in town as bus riders wouldn't be driving around town but instead using the city's free bus service. They'd also be saving money on transportation, which should leave more money for them to spend at local restaurants and businesses.
And with Steamboat Resort looking to invest in Howelsen Hill, Bustang could be a way to market the city's historic ski hill to budget-minded families who can't afford a $150 lift ticket and instead might choose to ride the Bustang or SnowStang to town and ski at Howelsen.
A combined city and resort effort in support of Bustang or SnowStang has too many upsides to not explore further, and we urge city leaders and those at Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. to act now before the window of opportunity closes.
Vail Daily, Aug. 20, on high-speed rail feasibility:
Like the story of aliens stashed away at Area 51, high-speed rail to mountain resorts is an idea that simply won't die.
The Denver Business Journal recently reported that a coalition of government and business groups commissioned a study to look into the feasibility of a high-speed rail line to the mountains.
The study found there would be some benefits in economic activity and tax revenue. But it didn't take into account the cost of the project. According to the article, a 2014 study estimated the cost of building high-speed rail from Denver International Airport to the Eagle County Regional Airport at between $10.8 and $32.4 billion. That's money that currently exists nowhere but in the minds of backers.
We all want thriving businesses in our communities, and visitors are the lifeblood of robust mountain resorts. And it's no secret that driving to and from the resorts can be time-consuming and aggravating enough to discourage some potential guests.
On the other hand, there are some silver linings to the dark clouds of congestion.
Here in the Vail Valley, we often hear complaints about crowded ski slopes on busy days. Do we really want easier access to what some say are already-crowded slopes, restaurants and lodges?
Then there's the cost. Given the 2014 study's estimates — with a broad enough cost swing to be better defined as a wild guess — do we really want to spend some wildly variable, currently unfunded 11-figure sum of money to create a 24/7/365 solution to what's now a problem roughly 110 days per year?
That should be enough, but here's one more thing to think about: new residents.
The recent study indicates that a rail line could bring more than 3,300 new residents to the corridor. Where might those people live?
Making Denver's Union Station a 60-minute rail ride from Edwards or Avon will create a new population of commuters, people who may or may not become involved in the communities where they sleep.
Do we as a state want to take on that kind of financial commitment? Do we as local residents want to put even more pressure on already-squeezed local housing markets? Do we really want to turn our valley into a resort/suburb?
Daily Camera, Aug. 17, on Boulder land use goals:
It is a Boulder axiom that the city suffers from a housing shortage. But attempts to address that problem invariably draw vehement resistance, and the city's Large Homes and Lots project is no different.
A proposal that is part of the project would increase the allowable number of residential units in certain Boulder neighborhoods where the homes and lots are bigger than usual. These neighborhoods constitute a small portion of the city, but the proposal has inspired an outsized opposition. A neighborhood group has organized under the name Preserve Our Zoning with the straightforward purpose of blocking all of the proposed land use changes. Members of the advocacy group PLAN-Boulder County say the changes would adversely affect neighborhood character and fail to achieve the affordable housing outcomes the city says it desires, and the group accuses the city of proceeding without properly consulting property owners.
But the proposed Large Homes and Lots changes should surprise no one who has followed the conversation about local land use in recent years, because they align so squarely with the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan — the foundational text for city planning — as well as the 2016 Boulder Middle Income Housing Strategy document, Boulder City Council members' stated policy preferences and other indicators of the direction of land use reform in the city.
Disagreement with more efficient, equitable and sustainable use of land in Boulder equals disagreement with the principles that officially guide the city's land use planning. Agreement with those principles, but only if one's own neighborhood is spared, is a form of bad faith and a drag on community progress. And if residents feel the city has developed the proposed changes in haste or without due community engagement, multiple opportunities to be heard yet await.
The Large Homes and Lots project arose last year from council discussions regarding gigantic homes that were appearing in low-density North Boulder neighborhoods. City leaders said the super-big homes were inconsistent with neighborhood character and conflicted with their affordable housing and environmental sustainability goals. Council members considered a moratorium on new single-family residences of 3,500 square feet or greater on lots of 10,000 square feet or greater, and they considered a permanent cap on home size.
They subsequently rejected the moratorium and home-size cap, but the project has produced new proposals, which apply to properties in the residential estate and rural residential — or RE and RR — zoning districts: The city would allow on lots that are big enough one accessory dwelling unit in addition to the one that is already allowed, and it would allow, subject to a use review, the conversion of existing detached homes into duplexes and triplexes. The city might consider in the future other proposed changes, including the ability to subdivide lots.
Members of PLAN argue, not without justification, that construction of more and smaller housing units alone will not produce affordable housing for low-income and workforce residents, because real estate forces put just about every market-rate home out of reach for many would-be Boulderites. But more efficient use of land serves other ends. It helps reduce energy use and traffic congestion, and it promotes a mix of housing types that serve the needs of a diverse population. Furthermore, affordability is relative, and Boulder has a need for smaller market-rate homes. The city's Middle Income Housing Strategy says that "attached housing in Boulder remains affordable longer, therefore new homes should be attached, and while relatively small, designed to serve a variety of middle income households." Plus, Council members could establish that second ADUs remain permanently affordable.
Solutions like these are found throughout the Comprehensive Plan, which speaks of "a diverse and integrated population" that has access to a "range of available housing opportunities." One passage even speaks specifically to accessory dwelling units (as well as owner accessory units): "The city will encourage property owners to provide a mix of housing types, as appropriate. This may include support for ADUs/OAUs, alley houses, cottage courts and building multiple small units rather than one large house on a lot."
Some residents assert that the Large Homes and other land use changes have progressed without proper interaction with affected neighborhoods. It's true that members of the public must be welcomed to the table. But public meetings, direct communication with property owners, stories in the newspaper, and other forms of outreach have accompanied the Large Homes and Lots process, and if the broader public engagement regime behind the Comprehensive Plan and other local land use discussions counts, it's hard to claim that members of the public have lacked opportunity to steer the conversation. Sometimes a call for neighborhoods to be heard is a justified appeal for representative government. Other times it's simply the message "not in my neighborhood."
But there's still plenty of time to comment. The next opportunity is Monday, during an open house from 3 to 7 p.m. at Boulder Meeting of Friends. City staff will answer questions and provide information about the Large Homes and Lots project.
Boulder must ensure that land in the city is used more efficiently and in ways that better address energy consumption and local housing needs. But for all the attention on the Large Homes and Lots project, the impact of the changes, if they're adopted, might amount both to little neighborhood impact and scant community benefit. As of early this month only nine property owners this year applied for ADUs in the large-lot neighborhoods. That's out of almost 2,000 lots. This lack of interest in ADUs suggests the proposed changes wouldn't go very far toward achieving the city's affordability and sustainability goals.
It also suggests that vocal opposition to them comes less from thoughtful disagreement than intransigence.