Armed with a study showing arterial streets north of Colorado College have excess capacity, the Old North End Neighborhood wants the city to put those streets on a "diet" by reducing traffic lanes to better accommodate pedestrians and cyclists.
City traffic engineering manager Kathleen Krager agrees. Next month, she'll propose City Council authorize restriping from four lanes to two on Cascade Avenue from Jackson Street south to Willamette Street, and Weber Street from Jackson, perhaps all the way south to Rio Grande Street.
If that works out, next year Krager will propose the same treatment for Wahsatch and Nevada avenues, though Nevada's two-lane traffic would change to four lanes two blocks north of the Uintah Street intersection due to capacity needs, Krager says.
"Colorado Springs throughout its history has built very large streets, and we simply don't have the traffic volume to justify those streets," she adds.
The news is welcomed by the Old North End Neighborhood board, which recently approved a Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Plan after a female Colorado College student was seriously injured in January at a college crosswalk on Cascade. The plan calls for two-laning Cascade, Nevada, Weber and Wahsatch. The college has wanted to narrow Cascade for years.
"The problem for us is, in five blocks you've got 16 lanes available for traffic," says Bob Loevy, Old North End resident and retired CC professor. "That traffic could easily be handled on all four streets with one lane in each direction."
But not everyone is happy with the proposed changes.
While the north-south routes might seem busy, traffic counts show they're underutilized. CC's 2013 study, conducted by Felsburg Holt & Ullevig of Colorado Springs, says the area in question has "significantly more capacity than needed."
Specifically, the study said Nevada carried 16,000 vehicles per day, or 4,000 per lane per day, significantly less than Academy Boulevard, which carried 55,000 vehicles per day, or about 9,200 per lane per day.
The study was part of CC's continuing efforts to redesign roads through the campus for student safety. CC's study showed that over several years, 10 incidents on streets through the campus involved pedestrians and 20 involved cyclists and skateboarders.
The answer, Loevy and Krager agree, is safety sizing, also called "road dieting," which is the reduction of lanes to accommodate bicycle infrastructure or reduce traffic speed or volume.
The Old North End's plan points to other streets in Colorado Springs where "dieting" has worked, including Cresta Road in front of Cheyenne Mountain High School, portions of Flintridge Drive, Flying W Ranch Road, Lake Avenue from Nevada to The Broadmoor hotel, and Uintah from Shooks Run to Palmer Park Boulevard.
"We're trying to find a way to calm the traffic and make it pleasanter for those homes on those roads but still meet the standards to move the traffic," Loevy says.
Even when traffic is diverted from Interstate 25, he doesn't see a problem, arguing that capacity exists on the four streets to handle extra volumes.
It might feel counterintuitive that reducing lanes won't clog traffic, but it's true, says Susan Edmondson, president and CEO of the Downtown Partnership, which hasn't yet formally taken a position on the plan.
"At times when you can eliminate a lane on streets where there's excess capacity, that increases the ability of people on foot and on bicycles to access downtown," she says. "We know our greater downtown area has wide lanes and has excess capacity. How do we turn that excess width and capacity into an asset? We want a more seamless integration among the downtown core and our adjacent neighborhoods, and something like this can help achieve that."
Krager and Loevy say the changes won't inconvenience drivers and will add convenience for cyclists. Striping for bike lanes would be done on Cascade and Weber this summer, if Council approves the changes in May, and, depending on the success of those changes, on Nevada and Wahsatch next summer, Krager says.
"We would take traffic counts on all north-south streets in the North End before we did it and a year later, so we could see the consequences," she says. Currently, Cascade carries 12,000 vehicles a day, which is "acceptable," she says, for a two-lane street.
While road dieting changes usually don't require City Council approval, this proposal will be submitted to Council because CC's master plan requires it, she says.
Along with narrowing from four to two lanes of Cascade, CC has agreed to reduce its crosswalks on Cascade from four to two and add landscaping to encourage students to use the crosswalks, Krager says.
While the Old North End board has approved the dieting plan and most members support it, not everyone cheers the idea. One resident in an online comment to the board had this observation: "I do not understand where all the cars are supposed to go."
John Duclos, who's lived on Wood Avenue in the Old North End for more than five years, opposes the lane reduction.
"I don't think it's necessary, and I think it will cause some real problems with traffic flow," he says when reached by phone. "What some people are missing here is, it's an urban neighborhood. When you live in a neighborhood like this, adjacent to downtown, you're going to have traffic. That's a fact of life. We don't live in a cloistered, gated community where every street is limited to traffic. We choose not to do that. We choose to live downtown."
He notes the Pikes Peak Greenway, a couple of blocks west, has a bike trail that allows cyclists to reach downtown unimpeded by vehicular traffic, reducing the need for bike lanes on the four north-south streets.
Duclos acknowledges that CC's student crossings are problematic, adding, "Pedestrians need to do a better job of being responsible citizens on their own. Take out your earbuds and stop looking down at your phone when you cross the street."
Likewise, author Sharon Peters, who also lives on Wood, says via email she used to live near both George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and University of Kentucky in Lexington, neither of which saw students injured in traffic.
"I suppose everyone in the world would prefer to have less traffic running through his or her neighborhood," Peters says. "I don't think that's a reasonable expectation for people to have if they've chosen to live two miles from the center of downtown. It is not right and it is not fair to inconvenience an entire community in this way to benefit a few thousand people."
But Loevy counters, saying: "Do the people who live on a street have say about the street?"
Krager says a public hearing will take place prior to a vote by Council on implementing the changes.