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Friday, January 31, 2020

City looks to link North Nevada Avenue with downtown

Posted By on Fri, Jan 31, 2020 at 11:48 AM

click to enlarge A crowd gathered Jan. 29 at Tap Traders to discuss the city's plan to route hundred of bus trips through the Old North End to link North Nevada Avenue with downtown. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • A crowd gathered Jan. 29 at Tap Traders to discuss the city's plan to route hundred of bus trips through the Old North End to link North Nevada Avenue with downtown.
A plan to route hundreds of buses per day through the Old North End to link North Nevada Avenue with downtown got pushback from residents who oppose a plan they say would bring polluting exhaust and noise through a historic neighborhood.

Here's the reason the city is looking into a new transportation plan for North Nevada:
The North Nevada Transit Connectivity Study will evaluate the feasibility of alternatives transit services to serve the needs of the North Nevada Avenue corridor and connect the UCCS [University of Colorado at Colorado Springs] campus to downtown Colorado Springs. The project will build on previous studies and by using existing transit operations, forecast demographics, and community input, will define the transit needs of the North Nevada Avenue corridor. Through definition of need, the project will select and define a preferred transit technology, alignment, and operational characteristics that best responds to the defined mobility needs of the corridor. Importantly, the project will develop these aspects of a transit service consistent with federal funding requirements including consideration of environmental constraints.
Residents who showed up at a Jan. 29 open house at Tap Traders on North Nevada, one of several meetings held in a process that dates back months, seemed skeptical at best and opposed at worst.

"I've lived here since 1948," one woman, who wouldn't give her name, said. "I grew up on Wahsatch [Street] and Nevada. The noise and pollution will increase. There are school kids crossing Nevada. This will negatively impact that. After attending three meetings ... [city officials] say it's already been decided. They're shoving it down our throats."

The city disputes that an exact route — which would run from 5 to 20 miles — and method of conveyance has been chosen, though several have been proposed.

The least expensive, at $2 million to $5 million per mile, would be to simply add local buses to existing routes in the corridor. The buses would run every 15 to 60 minutes and carry up to 5,000 people a day.

The most expensive option would be to build light rail transit, at $50 million to $100 million per mile, running every five to 15 minutes. It would carry up to 50,000 passengers per day.

David Schwartz, whose home faces Nevada, says adding buses to the four-lane street will cause more congestion. He notes one plan would add express buses that wouldn't stop between the UCCS campus and downtown. He's opposed to that because those buses would zip by, bring pollution and noise but not serve the neighborhood, he said.

Schwartz also notes that some years ago, the city ended Nevada as a designated truck route. "So why are they putting large vehicles back on the road?" he asks. "Why are they reversing that decision?"

Adding more transit vehicles, he says, would "change the nature of the area that's of historic importance," as well as place children and older adults who live in the neighborhood at risk.
click to enlarge screen_shot_2020-01-30_at_3.50.12_pm.png

Peter Franz, a member of the Old North End Neighborhood board who also serves on an advisory committee for the project, says the Old North End advocates that the route be placed on Interstate 25, which is designed for high volumes of traffic. He recalls that in 2004, the city tried to do the same thing with a route through the North End but scrapped the idea after North End residents swamped a City Council meeting.

This time it might be different. When the neighborhood caught wind of the project, residents asked for wording in the project's scope that said, "a high-frequency transit line should avoid neighborhoods of single-family homes." Planners agreed to add that language, but then tacked on "when possible," Franz says.

If the city adds one additional bus in both directions every 15 minutes, that computes to 125 additional bus trips, he says. "I think it's excessive," he says. "It's primarily meant to address growth in the North Nevada area and UCCS students."

Buses up and down Nevada now carry about 900 passengers per day, Franz says. The new route would carry up to 5,000 per day.

While it might be hard to imagine the number of riders increasing that much, Franz says they'll come from a new network of high-frequency routes that will feed into the Nevada route. Those will come from Woodmen Road, Austin Bluffs Parkway and Garden of the Gods Road, he says.

One plan calls for two bus stops to be built — at Penrose Hospital and at Uintah Street — which means the bus traffic isn't likely to serve much of the population living along the corridor itself, he says.

"We don't think it belongs on any neighborhood street," Franz says.

City Councilor Don Knight, who represents the northwest district that lies north of Fillmore Street, notes when he drives home from downtown, he takes Weber Street because it's wide and not as busy as I-25 and Nevada. He also called Weber "not as aesthetic" as Nevada and noted there's no boulevard between the north- and south-bound lanes as there is on Nevada.

"I'm going to be a little bit heartless," he says. "That [Nevada] is [U.S. Highway 115] and has been for a long time. I bought [a house] on a cul-de-sac because I didn't want a lot of traffic."

Addressing a rumor floating in the room that the city might set up a special taxing district to fund the new route, Knight says he hasn't heard anything about that. He adds that any new tax would require voter approval.

Gary Casimir, who is retired from the Navy, says he keeps his eye on city business, adding the city needs to answer a lot of questions before adopting any plan that would place additional buses on Weber, Wahsatch or Nevada. Among those:
1) Will the existing streets be re-built (not milled and a layer of asphalt) to handle the extra weight plus wear and tear on the streets?
2) Where will repair funding come from? What other neighborhoods will be shorted to maintain the streets?
3) What will be the cost per mile to run these additional buses? What is the current cost per mile? (methodology-historical data)
4) What is the maintenance cost per hour for the buses including the new articulated buses? (methodology-historical data)
5) Will the maintenance of the new buses be done in-house or out-sourced?
6) What is the break-even point of putting a bus into service? (methodology-historical data)
7) Who picks up the difference between actual cost to operate and actual monies derived from ridership?
8) Is the city preparing for autonomous buses?
Have your say in this survey. The city invites residents to complete it by Feb. 14. The study will wrap up in July, after which Mountain Metropolitan Transit officials will search for funding for its preferred alternative.
 

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