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What is it about this town, anyway? Is it the view of Pikes Peak? The clear, only mildly polluted air? The downtown bronze statues of our city's founders -- Stratton, Penrose and Hank the Cowboy?

Something out there encourages some people in power, and even city transportation planners, to advance agreeably lunatic ideas. For proof, let's look at the notion of blasting Constitution Avenue through to Interstate 25, which, after five hours of tedious debate last Monday, the City Council informally once again rejected -- well, sort of rejected. A majority of Council didn't want to reopen that particular can of worms, so it's on hold until the next time.

But maybe, instead of chanting the highway builder's mantra -- ommmm eastwest corridor ommm more lanes ommm more roads ommmm -- we ought to ask ourselves some mildly heretical questions. To begin with, should easy commuting be the primary goal of city government? Should we invest tens, even hundreds, of millions in pursuit of that goal? And if the absolutely predictable end result of such a policy -- a formless, uncentered and essentially boundary-less, sprawling city crisscrossed by freeways -- is so desirable, why don't we just all move to Los Angeles?

Let's consider what will happen to Constitution Avenue should it be extended to I-25. Pretty soon, we'll need separated-grade interchanges at Chelton, at Union, and at Academy. The road'll be six, maybe eight, lanes. Residential neighborhoods along the corridor will deteriorate, thanks to the highway's proximity.

And what will the people in power tell the folks who have the misfortune to live along the Constitution corridor? They'll claim that the project is for the good of the entire city, and that you Nimbys ought to get with the program.

Let's face it, they'll say. Your desire for a peaceful night's sleep, or a quiet neighborhood, or a secure investment in your home counts for nothing against the need for continued growth and sprawl. We profit; you pay -- what's wrong with that?

And what is wrong with that? After all, shouldn't the prosperity of the entire community, and the provision of a reasonable transportation network, outweigh a little inconvenience to an older neighborhood?

Maybe it's time to rekindle a discussion that started a quarter of a century ago and has since virtually ceased. In 1975, scores of community leaders came together in the first Citizens' Goals conference -- a way to explore what this community meant to its members and what these citizens thought the community should become. It was an ambitious undertaking, and one that had a profound impact upon the city.

The subsequent Trails, Open Space and Parks initiative, Springs Community Improvement Plan, Confluence Park -- all of these, and many others, are the descendants of that first Citizens' Goals conference. Yet despite these accomplishments, the original debate has been stilled.

Maybe we need to examine our city anew and look at it clearly and unsentimentally. True, we live in a place of extraordinary beauty, and we've created a peaceful, prosperous and largely amiable city. But if we extend our present policies out into the future -- 20 years, 30 years, 50 years from now -- what will we have?

If we continue to look upon the city as an engineering abstraction, as a device for moving traffic, draining storm water, and facilitating growth and development, today's problems will become unmanageable tomorrow. If we want to avoid such a fate -- and who knows? maybe we don't -- we should talk.

If so, we need to talk about real policy changes, not just altering the mechanics of existing policy. When, for example, we yammer about making developers pay for growth, we implicitly accept the proposition that growth is good for the community -- it's just a matter of where you send the bill.

And when we talk about how to solve the east-west transportation dilemma, we agree that the dilemma's real. Well, maybe the way to solve the east-west transportation dilemma is to do nothing. If it's too hard to commute from, say, Mountain Shadows to Schriever Air Force Base, then people will choose to live nearer to work. And if that leads to shorter commutes, what's bad about that?

And if we start putting tax dollars into a convenient, fast and user-friendly public transportation system, would that ruin our city? Frankly, I don't know. But I do think that we, the citizens of this city, need to push the power brokers out of the way and start a real public debate.

As long as we let the Chamber, the Economic Development Corporation, the Housing and Building Association and the Realtors define our problems, and the solutions thereto, we know what we'll get. We'll get Los Angeles -- without the palm trees, movie stars, or the Pacific Ocean. But with the smog.

-- jhazlehurst@csindy.com

  • John Hazlehurst on the east-west transportation dilemma

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