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Study, study, study 

Transit wonks say planning is essential

click to enlarge City planners say we can expect more of this if Colorado Springs doesnt make big transportation plans. - CREIGHTON SMITH
  • Creighton Smith
  • City planners say we can expect more of this if Colorado Springs doesnt make big transportation plans.

Springs Transit's general manager, Larry Tenenholz, will tell you straight up: Colorado Springs hasn't added new bus service in 25 years. But what the city lacks in public transportation, it more than makes up for in transportation studies.

Over the past three years, the City and the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (PPACG) have produced no fewer than nine transportation studies at a total cost of nearly $1.3 million in city, state and federal funds.

But even with the multitude of studies -- and the fact that a regional rapid transit system may be a generation off -- transportation wonks are encouraged that one day their plans will be realized.

"You'll never get it if you don't plan for it," noted Ann Oatman-Gardner, the chairwoman of the Pikes Peak chapter of Colorado Mobility Coalition, a transportation advocacy group.

Living up to its name

The latest study, which will be completed in July, has been commissioned by the city's transportation department at a cost of $485,000. Conducted by the Denver-based Parsons Transportation Group, the study aims to identify and evaluate three to four "transportation corridors," or highly traveled routes, for a rapid transit system.

Current candidates include I-25, Academy and Powers boulevards, and east-west thoroughfares like Constitution Avenue and Woodmen Road, among others.

The study's lead consultant, Phil Hoffmann, said that a rapid transit system could encompass anything from the type of light in rail Denver to express bus service. The imperative, he said, is that rapid transit should live up to its name and move faster than traffic.

Hoffmann conceded, however, that the planning process for any transit system is anything but rapid. The current feasibility study is only the first of several in the cumbersome planning process. The majority of the studies, Hoffmann said, are required to receive federal funding. The whole process typically takes between 10-12 years.

"Denver identified their system of corridors back in 1973; the first light rail corridor that was built was finished in 1995," Hoffmann said. "It takes quite a few years and a lot of effort to get it nailed down."

Up by 30 percent

Expensive as it may be, city transit planner Mike Felschow said that not planning for the future would see a "steady erosion of the [public transportation] system based purely on the rate of inflation and population growth."

According to a 2002 commuter survey conducted by the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, the average local commute is between five and seven miles and takes just under 19 minutes. PPACG planners say this is up by 30 percent since 1992.

The region's population is expected to increase to 800,000 by 2030, and Oatman-Gardner of the Colorado Mobility Coalition said that without a plan, there would never be any new public transportation.

Though she notes that Colorado Springs' system lags behind similar-sized cities like Albuquerque and San Diego, the current study is a positive step, she said. "It really signals that we want our community to be accessible to everyone."

Two to a Hummer

Al Brody, president of the Pikes Peak Area Bikeways Coalition, said that changes in traffic patterns would also require a substantial change in people's driving behavior -- not just improving public transportation.

"A few van pools, buses or if people just once in awhile ... put someone else in their Hummer -- two people in the Hummer instead of just one -- we wouldn't have to expand any roads," Brody said.

After the current study is completed in July, planners say the next step is to gain the approval of City Council for an environmental impact study. Transit services manager Sherre Ritenour said the next study would likely focus on only one of the selected corridors because of the expense involved. However, she maintained that such studies are inevitable -- and not redundant.

"If we don't do careful studies for the future we can't be prepared for it," Ritenour said.

-- John Dicker

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