For all the misery that's befallen downtown commuters in recent years, it appears a payoff is near.
First, the Cimarron Street bridge should partially reopen May 15, making the drive from the west side a heck of a lot easier.
Once you arrive, you can ditch your car. The expanding Easy Park system will mean that nearly every meter from Boulder Street to the north, Weber Street to the east, Moreno Avenue to the south and Cascade Avenue to the west (plus Old Colorado City) will accept plastic pre-paid parking cards available at kiosks around downtown. Parking Administrator Greg Warnke says 2,855 cards have already been purchased and are in use.
Valet parking is also hinted to be in the works.
After leaving your wheels, look for an improved mode of travel. Tejon Street is scheduled to convert fully to two-way on March 30, if weather cooperates. Aside from easing a lot of confusion, the conversion means the free Downtown Shuttle can follow a logical path (likely a simple route up and down Tejon from Colorado College to Interstate 25), instead of zig-zagging around the one-way section of Tejon from Bijou Street to Vermijo Avenue.
"Going back and forth on Tejon, we think, will just cause a real shift, and a psychological shift in how the shuttle is perceived," says the Downtown Partnership's Beth Kosley.
The shuttle is already the second most-ridden bus in town it experienced 12 percent growth in 2007, with 178,889 riders and leaders think the simpler route will attract people. With that in mind, seven new buses are being purchased with funds from the downtown Business Improvement District, the Downtown Partnership, Colorado College and Pikes Peak Regional Transportation Authority. The buses, approved this week by City Council, will have bright designs featuring different themes.
And the shuttle will get a new name DASH, which stands for Downtown Area Shuttle.
In light of all this, the Downtown Partnership is planning a new marketing campaign. "There is only one downtown" aims to lure more people to the city's core.
Of course, there are catches.
Start with Cimarron: If work continues on schedule, May will bring a partial bridge opening with two lanes in each direction, says city spokeswoman Carrie McCausland. But crews will still be tacking on two more lanes, plus bike lanes and sidewalks. That means drivers (and a clog of tourists) will have to dodge equipment and guys in hard hats until Aug. 25, the scheduled completion date.
Second, if we get crappy weather on March 30, Tejon conversion will be delayed at least a week until conditions are nice enough for the new lane paint to dry. Oh, and the current one-way section of Tejon will be closed to vehicles on conversion day.
Third, there's no guarantee DASH will keep running. This year, the city's Parking Enterprise is paying about $500,000 for DASH's operations costs. Next year, the city will have to pick up the tab. Charging a fare could help, but does anyone know where the rest of the money could come from?
"No," says Vice Mayor Larry Small. "No," says City Councilwoman Jan Martin. "No," says Kosley. "No," says Transit Services Division Manager Sherre Ritenour.
Of course, if necessary, Martin notes, "there's a market for those buses."