Bikes, cars and pedestrians don't always mix. Thus it's no great wonder that the city has tried to solve the problem of West Colorado Avenue's popularity.
What is surprising, however, is that the city has offered up two solutions to the problem. And both will become reality at virtually the same time.
You likely have heard of the "sharrow" markers soon to be added on Colorado and Pikes Peak avenues, between Hancock Avenue and 31st Street. Different from striped bike lanes, which are for bike use only, sharrow markers remind drivers to expect and yield to cyclists in the shared-use lane.
State law already allows cyclists to use the outside lane of a road, meaning sharrows clarify current standards. The sharrows on Colorado and Pikes Peak are being paid for with private money being raised by City Councilor Tim Leigh, himself a cyclist, and the city is footing the bill for the labor. They're scheduled to be done by mid-June.
The other soon-to-come fix has been in the works for a decade: the Midland Trail, a chunk of which already runs between Colorado Avenue and U.S. Highway 24 from America the Beautiful Park to 21st Street. Another chunk runs through Manitou Springs along Fountain Creek. After years of obtaining easements and funds, the parks department is building the in-between chunk, and hopes to finish in October.
All of which begs the obvious question: Does the city really need two solutions for one problem?
A big problem
The woes of Colorado Avenue are especially evident along a western stretch that wears its neglect like a badge of honor.
"No Man's Land," as this pot-holed stretch is often called, is the area where the state's property meets the county's property between the Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs city limits. There's no shoulder. No sidewalks. Certainly no trail. The road winds sharply over a bridge in serious need of repair.
Not squarely under the control of any one master (though local governments are seeking funding that could eventually improve the stretch) the area feels somewhat lawless, despite police cars and fire trucks frequenting the rundown motels that are home to largely impoverished tenants.
Some examples of what you might witness on a typical day along this stretch: the poor using their bikes to haphazardly haul grocery bags back to their rooms; drunks walking unsteadily to friends' homes; athletes speeding by on road bikes; people with disabilities struggling unsteadily on the chipped pavement; and hipsters on cruisers making their way home from the bars at night, sans lights.
Of course, the road also plays host to plenty of motorists, including scores of scatterbrained tourists trying to find their hotels.
In short, No Man's Land is a great place to get in a wreck. Frankly, the rest of West Colorado Avenue isn't much better. Bikes weave in and out of parked cars. Buses pull hurriedly out into traffic. Cars stop to make turns onto residential streets, or to search for parking.
Considering the situation, it's not terribly surprising that Leigh's idea to add sharrows was met with a mix of excitement and disgust. Some locals felt it would make things better; others thought it'd make them worse.
City Traffic Engineer David Krauth says one of the major misconceptions about the sharrows, which are also being placed on parts of Tejon and 30th streets, is that they will encourage bicyclists to use these roads even more.
It's not clear that's been the case in other cities, Krauth says, adding, "The research has shown that the use of the markings has reduced inappropriate cycling ... and it's also shown that motorists are a little more alert to the cyclists, so they actually pass them appropriately."
Krauth says bikes have a right to use the road, anyway. With or without a path nearby, some cyclists will choose to exercise that right, and the point of sharrows, he says, is to make sure they do so safely.
Krauth doesn't call the nearby trail extension a duplicative effort. But, he adds, his department likely would not have pursued sharrows on Colorado Avenue right away were it not for the private funding.
The city parks department's Sarah Bryarly, who's helping to oversee the Midland Trail project, notes that experienced road bikers, many of whom exceed the Midland's 20 mph speed limit, will always prefer the road. But mothers with children on trikes, roller-bladers and those out for a casual stroll likely will see the trail as an asset.
The Midland Trail is being built along the old Midland Railroad route. It's taken years for the parks department to obtain needed easements, and even now a long-term detour is being put in place from 21st to 25th streets, until the state Department of Transportation takes on its planned overhaul of U.S. 24.
This leg of the Midland, approximately 2.25 miles, has a construction budget of about $2 million, with half coming from a Great Outdoors Colorado grant and half from the Trails, Open Space and Parks dedicated sales tax. It's expected to come in well under budget, and is "a huge connection," Bryarly says, "because it connects downtown Colorado Springs to downtown Manitou Springs."
The trail is expected to improve in the future. Plans call for the Midland to eventually run all the way to Divide (though not completely paved), and to allow for safe passage to Red Rock Canyon Open Space one day.
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