I heard from the 2010 Heaven Fest organizers; here’s an update on their transportation plan.
Heaven Fest is a large Christian music festival that will take place at Union Reservoir east of Longmont Colorado on July 31, 2010. About 30,000 people are expected to attend, with significant traffic impacts on area roads.
In an effort to smooth the flow of traffic, Heaven Fest has decided to prohibit any biking or walking to the festival, although Union Reservoir is within walking and easy biking distance of several east Longmont neighborhoods.
Why this matters.
The stated reason Heaven Fest gave for the bicycle and walking ban was the mythical ‘safety’ boogeyman.
Heaven Fest is a private event, so legally the organizers can do what they want regarding access. This is a large event, however, and the widespread myth that walkers and bicyclists create a safety hazard needs to be challenged head on. Heaven Fest have expressed a willingness to dialog with the communities they impact, so this represents a good opportunity for education.
Heaven Fest organizers are pretty good at large event planning, but they’re not experts in transportation planning; they received their advice from elsewhere (and more on that below). They received their event permit from the city of Longmont in March 2010. Longmont’s event permit made no mention of planning for ‘alternative’ (non-car) transportation to the event.
When I served on Longmont’s Transportation Advisory Committee in the past, we routinely received memos of upcoming events that might have a traffic impact. City staff would also brief Bicycle Longmont members (of which I was one) of events like this so we could have opportunity to comment. I don’t know if this is done today, but bike advocates in Longmont missed a golden opportunity to make a difference with Heaven Fest. I hope this changes for 2011.
Public safety and traffic management
Heaven Fest’s traffic planning was done at the behest of the Colorado State Patrol, Weld County Sheriff, and Longmont Police. These agencies also provided their input to event planners on their idea of ‘best practices’ for traffic management, and I strongly suspect that the idea for banning bikes and walkers probably came from these police agencies and from the fire / rescue agencies that will provide emergency services to the festival.
When I worked on bike advocacy in Longmont, the most passionate opposition for any kind of traffic calming measure came from the Longmont Police Department Traffic Unit and the Longmont Fire Department.
I’m simplifying the police officers’ views, but in a nutshell:
- Interstate Highways are the safest roads in America, with about half the fatality rate of other roads; ergo…
- Every road should be an Interstate Highway!
From the traffic cops’ perspective, bicycle and pedestrian access on Colorado Highway 119 and Weld County Road 1 is a non-intended user encroaching into the territory of the almighty motorcar.
Other emergency responders — paramedics and firefighters — see impediments on the road for the high speeds required for life saving response.
A transportation planner has a more nuanced picture, however. With an estimated 4,000 vehicles expected to travel to Heaven Fest from Boulder County, they understand that even a modest, single percentage point reduction in this vehicle count can have a large impact on traffic congestion on Highway 119 coming from the west. 200 people on bikes or on foot is a significant 5% reduction in that vehicle traffic. That reduced vehicle traffic means better traffic flow and improved emergency response time!
As I expected, it’s a little late in the game to upend Heaven Fest’s transportation plan now. The task for bicycling and bicyclist advocates in Longmont, Boulder County and (if there are any) Weld County is to make plans to change this for 2011.
Longmont bike advocates: Work now with your city council representatives for a bike access and parking requirement for large events that take place on city property or for which there are any street closures (e.g. WCR26 and Fairview Lane will be closed for Heaven Fest). Weld County residents — try to do something similar with your county council. I’ll warn you that my experience with the Weld County Council and county staff has never been positive.
When the city of Longmont goes to review the permit application for 2011, Longmont bike advocates need to pay attention and insist on a requirement for bike and foot access to Union Reservoir. Incidentally, this kind of stuff is a potential source of revenue for Bicycle Longmont — if there’s a ‘monitored bike parking’ requirement in the Union Reservoir event contract, Heaven Fest will need to pay somebody who knows how to handle valet bike parking.
Feel free going to the Longmont PD and firefighters with your arguments regarding enhanced safety with bicycles and walking, but others have been doing so literally for years and, if the Heaven Fest fiasco is any indication, they haven’t changed their minds
I’ve already talked with some people in Longmont and Colorado encouraging them to get the ball rolling on these tasks. If you have other suggestions please feel free to comment! And Heaven Fest organizers: Thank you for your note, but I’m filling in a lot of blanks with my suppositions and assumptions, so please feel free to clarify anything I’ve missed or gotten wrong.