A plan to downsize roads in the Old North End leads to a lawsuit 

click to enlarge Traffic during the evening rush hour in the Old North End. - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • Traffic during the evening rush hour in the Old North End.
Just to the north of the city’s growing downtown, and surrounding the expanding Colorado College, the Old North End neighborhood hearkens to a more bucolic age.

Wide streets with park-like medians are lined by neatly kept historic mansions, interspersed with charming cottages and the occasional business. Huge deciduous trees hang over the pretty scene, which on many streets, is now interrupted by a steady stream of traffic.

What to do about that traffic is a long-time conundrum. While representatives from Colorado College did not respond to a request for comment, it’s no secret that the school has variously sought to narrow or close roads — or make other moves aimed at increasing safety for students. The Old North End Neighborhood, which represents some of the neighbors, has wavered in its view, but is reportedly on board with the city’s current plan (though a representative did not respond to our email), which includes:

• narrowing Cascade Avenue this year to two lanes (from four), adding buffered bike lanes and parking in each direction.
• narrowing Fontanero Street, between El Paso Street and Wood Avenue, to two lanes, adding buffered bike lanes, and a center turn lane in 2019.
• narrowing Weber Street, between Colorado Avenue and Jackson Street, to two lanes, with a center turn lane and bike lanes in 2020.

The plan also has the support of cyclists eager to see infrastructure improvements, including Bike Colorado Springs. Communications Committee Chair Cully Radvillas says, “It’ll be an important on-street connection into and through downtown and connect to bike lanes that are already in place on both Weber and Cascade.” The point, Radvillas says, is to let people get around safely in the way in which they please, including by bike.

But a small group of neighbors who are less than pleased by the plan have taken the matter to court.

The group, which is a newly minted not-for-profit, calls itself the Old North End Owners for Enforcement of Master Plan, Inc. On April 3, it filed a verified complaint for injunctive relief, a motion for a preliminary injunction, and a motion for a temporary restraining order against the City of Colorado Springs and Senior City Traffic Engineer Kathleen Krager, in her official capacity.

The restraining order was denied, the injunction issue will be heard on April 26. The city would not comment on the pending litigation.

The group claims, among other things, that Krager made a unilateral decision to narrow streets, when the city’s Planning Commission and City Council have decided against similar changes in the past, and when two city master plans and city code appear to require the approval of Council and the Planning Commission before such changes are made. Narrowing roads in the area, the group claims, would worsen traffic and “endanger public safety.”

Dr. Stephen Marsh is one member of the group. He’s lived in his current home on Wood Avenue since 1979, but notes that his wife’s family has been in the neighborhood since 1873.

Marsh says he recalls decades-old plans to narrow these streets — it’s an issue that just doesn’t seem to go away — but he says narrowing the roads would alter the neighborhood’s historic nature.

“It’s a sense of what’s appropriate for this neighborhood as designed by
General Palmer,” he says.

Richard Sullivan, who’s lived in the Old North End since 1971, isn’t a member of the group seeking a court remedy, but is also displeased with the narrowing.

His concern is that narrowing streets will force traffic onto other streets, crowding them — especially since not all of the streets would be narrowed at one time. Traffic jams, he says, already hit the neighborhood every time Interstate 25 backs up, and years back, when the interstate was being expanded, drivers even raced down the neighborhood’s alleys trying to escape traffic. Sullivan, who lives on Wood Avenue, fears the increase in car traffic on his street.

Of the city, he says, “We don’t trust ’em because we know what the unintended consequences will be and there will be no recourse at that point.”

Sullivan says the traffic is there, and narrowing streets won’t change that. And he resents the accusation that opponents to the narrowing plan are anti-cyclist. He says the neighborhood is supportive of cyclists — he’s ridden a bike most of his life — but that the proposed bike lanes are unneeded with quiet streets and paths available.

Of course, not everyone agrees with this assessment. Radvillas, for instance, says people just don’t feel safe riding a bike through the crowded Old North End. And, while the city won’t comment, a recent op-ed in The New York Times noted that city planners recognize a phenomenon called “induced traffic demand” — the “if you build it, they will come” of traffic engineering. Simply put: Expanding roads draws more traffic, and yes more congestion, to them.

Of course, it’s anyone’s guess if the opposite concept (narrow roads draw fewer cars) will hold true in the Old North End.

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