2019 Candidate Questionnaire: Joe Somodi, Councilmember District 1

As a heads up, this election will be mail only. By March 18 all registered voters will be mailed their ballots and will need to be returned to the City Clerk by 7 p.m. on April 2. 

All voters will be electing a new mayor, and voters in Districts 2, 4 and 6 will be electing representatives. In addition to those elections, voters will be presented with ballot and financial issues, or initiated, referred ordinances and/or resolutions. 

As your local bicycling nonprofit, Bike Fort Collins feels informed voters are an important mechanism to support safe enjoyable roads for ALL cyclists in our community. Each election year there are candidates for both local offices and local ballot measures that could have some impact upon our bicycling environment. With the objective of educating voters on local candidates views towards bicycling, we’ve sent a short questionnaire to this years candidates. The questions and responses are below are from Joe Somodi, Councilmember District 1.

Bike Fort Collins cannot take any official position endorsing candidates, this is information for you to potentially consider when making your own decisions.

QUESTIONS IN BOLD AND ANSWERS IN REGULAR TEXT:

Do you regularly ride a bicycle?

I love riding my bike! One of my primary motivations for moving to Fort Collins was the outdoor lifestyle. Being able to bike as often as possible is important to me. After we moved to our home near Vine and Timberline, I was disturbed by how disconnected we were from the rest of the community. I tried to become comfortable with the commute into Old Town, but have found travel on Vine too dangerous. After an inquiry to the city staff, I learned that we are at least five years out from realizing full connectivity of bike trails in our community. Since that time, I’ve tried to get comfortable commuting on Vine, but the volume of traffic and narrow shoulder prohibit safe bicycling. I regularly ride my bike around Fort Collins, but I feel safer transporting my bicycle into the center of the City in my vehicle to avoid the dangerous trip down Vine Street. This awareness has motivated me to elevate improvements in bicycle connectivity throughout Fort Collins and its neighboring communities.

If so, where is your favorite place to ride?

My favorite places to ride are the Spring Creek and the Poudre River Trails. I find them (particularly the Poudre River Trail), meditative on a warm summer evening. I also really enjoy the area around Horsetooth Reservoir, and have managed to ride all the paved trails in that area. They are truly one of the highlights of living in Fort Collins. In good weather months, I regularly ride the dedicated bike trails. On occasion, I take my bike on mountain bike trails on the perimeter of town. I am increasing my capabilities on more and more challenging terrain.

What do you feel are the top two barriers to bicycling in Fort Collins?

Safety and Connectivity

While many in Fort Collins have easy, safe access to bicycle paths, lanes, etc., many still lack connectivity to safe options for riding a bike on a daily basis. I think there is still plenty of room for improvement to ensure that Fort Collins becomes even more bikeable than it is today.

Safety is the primary concern. Although paved trails transverse high traffic areas, but there are gaps in dedicated space for bikers. More emphasis must be placed on driver awareness of bikers/bike lanes. As the city grows I believe there is more work that can be done to make Fort Collins the best and safest place to be on a bicycle. Programs like Safe Routes to School is a program that offers opportunity to build on for the rest of the community.

The sense of community around bicycling is one of the great strengths of Fort Collins. It is perhaps the most uniquely identifying characteristic of our city.

What should be the City’s role in supporting transit as a safe, affordable, efficient and convenient travel option for people of all ages and abilities?

The transportation system in Fort Collins is in desperate need of improvement. Bus schedules, routing and frequency are a serious concern for students, employees, and the aging population. They would likely use the system if it were available, affordable and convenient. MAX has proven to be a huge success, and could be expanded along with the trail system, availability of shared/rental bikes across the city, and education campaigns.

Making Fort Collins more bike, bus and walking friendly, will be a significant contribution to improving community health and the achievement of the important goals laid out in the city’s Climate Action Plan.

Do you support paid public parking? Please explain your reasoning.

I believe that the issue of paid public parking is an important component of the overall transportation plan. The City must decide where and how to locate paid parking. Area businesses, revenue streams and traffic congestion must be considered in the ultimate placement. I am still considering the options and gathering more information, public input, and data on what the best long-term options are for the City.

Vision Zero

The Transportation Systems section of our new draft City Plan refers to developing a safety enhancement action plan for all modes based on the City’s commitment to Vision Zero. Denver has adopted a Vision Zero action plan including mandatory progress reporting.

Should the City of Fort Collins have a formal role supporting, implementing, and reporting on Vision Zero?

Absolutely! The goal of zero injuries and deaths to pedestrians and bicyclists should be a top priority for the City of Fort Collins.

If so, what should that role be?

The City of Fort Collins should be a leader in local and regional efforts to achieve the objectives of Vision Zero. I believe the City can provide leadership in this role by leveraging its existing human capital and expertise in the local non-profit sector, bicycling clubs, etc. One important aspect of the City’s role should be to maintain efficiency among the various departments of City government such as Police, Transportation Planning, and Parks and Recreation. As a member of the City Council, I would also work to secure funding for the implementation of new safety measures through existing grants from state and federal agencies. I would encourage transparency in all aspects of this process – from the planning of annual goals to the implementation of new safety strategies and reporting of annual achievements and missed opportunities. Additionally, I would like to see statistics publicly reported in newspapers, Facebook, and other media to ensure the community is aware of the status of the program. The status of community safety must be communicated to the widest possible audience.

Distracted Driving

What is your opinion of the Distracted Driving Bill (SB 19-012), currently under consideration in the State legislature?

I am in full support of the hands-free regulation outlined in this bill. Similar to the Vision Zero commitment outlined above, I believe bicycle and pedestrian safety should be a top priority to our growing population. Driving while distracted by phones and other handheld technology is simply unacceptable and requires firm regulation and enforcement/penalties to stop injuries and deaths.

I have a close friend who was hit by a distracted driver while he was on a bicycle. The incident has been life-changing for him and those close to him.

As outlined in SB 19-012, I believe the problems related to distracted driving will only get worse if we don’t establish strict guidelines now. Using hand-held devices while driving is a primary offense. I am aware of studies that clearly demonstrate the negative impact of distracted driving (up to 8 times higher risk of being involved in an accident). I believe this bill is a good step in the right direction, and one that will bring increased public awareness to this important issue. A weakness in the bill is that talking on hands-free devices, while safer, still results in distracted driving and an increase in vehicular accidents. However, I recognize banning all mobile conversations is unlikely and enforcement of this would be nearly impossible.

Infrastructure

Significant areas of our local community have gaps in transport options as well as bicycling and walking infrastructure. In addition to the safety hazard they discourage residents from these activities.

How would you approach filling in those infrastructure gaps?

All neighborhoods deserve safe access to reliable infrastructure – including bicycling and walking. I am in full support of expanding the infrastructure to bring accessible bicycling and walking to every neighborhood in our city. Our city is growing and that is our current reality. Managing growth to enhance the lives of all in our community is one of the key pillars of my platform. I advocate for a city budget that will keep pace with existing and future growth.

Improving infrastructure requires thoughtful community consultation, planning and sufficient funding. Identifying high priority infrastructure needs in and around existing neighborhoods is an important step in addressing this problem. I would advocate for the implementation of rigid standards for all future neighborhood development that include incorporation of safe bicycle options, such as streets with bike lanes or bike paths parallel to sidewalks.