So, you finally have a car in Boulder.
Things will be easier now, you think. You won’t be the kid lugging six grocery bags on the bus or the kid frantically checking his iPhone for the updated bus schedule. Instead, you’ll be making dozens of new friends when you mention your car and heading out to Flatirons Mall when you need new clothes. Sure, gas is expensive, and parking on the Hill isn’t ideal, but you think having a car seems like a pretty good deal.
Well, you’re wrong.
Driving in Boulder might be the most frustrating thing you experience in your four years at CU. Follow these tips, and you might – might – survive. Of course, you need to prepare your vehicle first. Check if it requires tire repair or any other auto repair service before going on a long trip. Those need to replace their old tires may visit a local tire sale shop.
1. Beware of cyclists and pedestrians.
The first thing new students learn about Boulder as a town is that the cars will stop for you. Pedestrians have the right of way – always. Don’t worry about waiting for the light to turn red; the cars will stop for you. Don’t run; the cars will stop for you. Walk in front of the Buff Bus; it will stop for you (and if it doesn’t, don’t you get free tuition?)
So when you hop behind the wheel, watch out.
Bikers and pedestrians come out of nowhere, and they come fast. Blink, and you might hit a biker or a student jaywalking as she texts. Pay special attention when you’re on campus and when you’re turning – a fast biker might whip around the corner seconds before you, forcing you to either slam on your brakes or face legal charges.
Car-bike collisions happen more often than you think, and they’re not pretty. Avoid the mess, and leave some room between you and the cyclist, whether they’re in a bike lane or not. Because let’s be honest, they’re probably cruising down the middle of the street. Give a buffer of a few feet at all times. They’re unpredictable and any accidents, regardless of what happens, will always be your fault.
2. Look out for one-way streets and other unusual street features.
Whoever designed Boulder’s streets had obviously never driven before. Normal roads suddenly become left-turn only lanes at major intersections, even when it looks like you should be able to go straight. Two-way streets abruptly become narrow one-ways with no warning. Some left turns at intersections have their own individual stoplights, and others don’t. Highway ramps are counterintuitive and on the wrong side of the street because they circle around before merging with the freeway. Highways turn into streets then turn into a different highway. A few roundabouts are scattered through Boulder in the most random spots, and some half-roundabout-like things litter the downtown area. Streets have four different names, only one of which is on the iPhone maps app. Let’s not even talk about Pearl Street, which magically becomes a walking mall halfway through downtown.
Nothing in this city is consistent when it comes to driving.
Prepare yourself to have absolutely no idea where you are supposed to be, what the road is even doing or why something that makes perfect sense is illegal. It won’t make sense, and trying to understand it will drive you insane, trust me.
3. Give yourself extra time.
I’m that girl that’s always running late. To everything. I blame my mom; I think it’s in the genes. At least when I’m home in Texas, leaving the house five minutes late only means arriving five minutes late.
But in Boulder, leaving five minutes late could mean arriving fifteen minutes late, depending on traffic. And construction. And school zones. And stoplights. And whether the people on the road drive like they have brains.
You think it’ll only take ten minutes to get from your house to Starbucks for that interview? Give yourself twenty. Best case scenario: you’re there ten minutes early, nailing the first impression. Worst case scenario: you hit the inevitable Boulder construction or get stuck behind someone going 10 mph below the speed limit, and you get to Starbucks ten minutes late, bombing the interview.
Plus, there’s always, always, always construction going on somewhere. Whether that’s on campus or on Canyon, odds are, you’ll run into it somewhere. Work zones slow down traffic and create huge traffic jams of cars creeping in between the endless orange cones and men in reflective vests with big SLOW signs. Give yourself a time buffer to account for the time you’ll sit in that traffic.
4. Expect to walk, and learn to parallel park.
Parking on the Hill is actually tortuous. Finding a spot three blocks away from my house is still considered a “prime” spot, which horrifies me because I’m lazy. If I ever manage to snag a spot on my street, I avoid moving my car for as long as I possibly can. Expect to walk. Grab the first parking spot you see and never turn one down just because it seems a little too far away.
Also, parallel parking is vital. Rows and rows of cars line the streets, and the odds of finding a spot you can drive into every time you need to park are very slim. Bite the bullet, and start practicing. Don’t be embarrassed to send your friend out of the car to guide you. If you’re struggling, people will probably make fun of you anyway, so might as well make sure you don’t hit any cars in the process.
People constantly park half-a-car’s width apart from each other, meaning there are about seven spots you could have parked in – if people had parked correctly. People box each other in, scooting up just a little too close to the car behind them, so watch out. Try to park appropriately close without trapping your neighbors.
Watch out for the no-parking signs and the permit only signs. Both result in a $20 fine, so the spot is never worth it, even if you think you can maybe get away with it. Odds are, you probably can’t.
5. Expect the unexpected.
This is probably a good rule for driving in general, but in Boulder, it needs to be your mantra. If you take nothing else from this article, remember this.
If anything will be the downfall of civilization, it’s the driving in Boulder. About 80 percent of the drivers in Boulder seem to have no idea what a blinker is or what it’s for. Some never use it. Some seem to always have it on and never turn. People run red lights and stop at green ones. People swerve out of left turn lanes at the very last second, and people make extremely risky turns through traffic that cause you to slam on the breaks. People barrel down alleys without slowing down for pedestrians to get out of the way and then laugh at the shaken-up students when they drive by.
Forget how sane people drive. Drivers do whatever the hell they want here. If they want to drive the wrong way up a one-way, they’ll do it. If they want to come to a full stop at every yield sign when there’s no traffic, they’ll do it. If they want to go 20 mph below the speed limit, believe me, they’ll do it.
Contact CU Independent Copy Editor Ainslee Mac Naughton at Ainslee.firstname.lastname@example.org.