Bypassing Solutions?

The first step toward finding a solution is stating the problem. Often, an accurate definition displays the answer somewhere inside. However, not broadening the initial concept can lead you down the wrong path towards a solution that doesn't solve the real problem. It's similar to what Stephen Covey (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) sees as the difference between "doing the thing right" and "doing the right thing."

During my days on a telephone computer hotline, I got a call once about a "report printout that was bad." I walked the person through checking the cables, power, paper, setup, and other stuff. After getting several printouts that were "still bad" although other files printed fine, I discovered her problem was with the numbers on the report, not the printing itself. I hadn't followed my normal pattern which is to brainstorm possible problems, then to ask questions to discard some solutions but better define the problem, and then to try a solution.

That was my first response to the notice I received from the northern bypass committee. My list of possibilities included closing 287 to trucks to keep them on I-80 and I-25 or creating routes through Owl Canyon, Douglas Road, Country Club Road, or Vine Drive. As I explored options in depth, one question arose.

Why do we need a bypass?

If it's to keep truck traffic vibration from demolishing the foundations of buildings in Old Town, then that doesn't narrow down the choices but does offer others such as tearing down all the buildings or constructing a special section of roadway that dampens vibrations. If it's to decrease the total amount of traffic passing through Fort Collins including cars, busses, and tourists, then that requires a rerouting of US 287 and CO 14. Assuming the reason for this is to increase road safety and decrease maintenance, then we can also discard many alternate routes such as Vine and Country Club that go through populated areas. And since we're planning for the future, we'd discard Douglas because of the new soccer complex by the Budweiser plant and the soon-to-be-built Richards Lake subdivision. That also means we can't reroute through Wellington so we either have to build a new interchange, use the one for Owl Canyon, or keep the traffic on the interstates.

Even if an expensive bypass were constructed through Owl Canyon, we'd need to come up with ways to get people to use it. It's a lot cheaper for truckers who pay for their own gas to use the 287 route to cut off 40 miles. Perhaps if we made it more expensive, we may solve the problem for all traffic or solve the truck problem for Old Town. (Now I'm back to defining the actual problem.). A few options for keeping trucks off 287 are a separate speed limit slow enough to make the interstate more profitable, a toll road, or continual construction with random delays. Of course, this would require partnering with County, State, and Federal transportation people but so would most any solution.

Armed with these ideas, I reread the notice for meeting times. Unfortunately, I have other obligations. Yet even worse, I see it is already named the "Northeast Fort Collins Truck Route Project." They even have their own logo. The problem has already been defined, and the foregone solution hidden in the definition is Douglas Road because it is the most northeast route in the Fort Collins growth area. Limiting the options ahead of time is not a road any of us should take, especially citizens of the "Choice" City.