Calming not coming
Financially strapped city ends program, leaving 2 Westside streets without long-promised traffic-slowing upgrades
For several years, two Westside traffic calming projects have been delayed. Now they have been cancelled altogether.
The city released the bad news last week in postcards to residents of six neighborhoods citywide. The Westside neighborhoods are around 17th Street and around Broadway Street.
The action means those streets - 17th between Colorado Avenue and Uintah Street and Broadway between 21st Street and Westend Avenue - will not receive construction treatments the city had once pledged for the purpose of “calming” (slowing down) traffic.
In the postcards, blame for the demise of what had been called the Neighborhood Traffic Management Program (NTMP) was placed on city budget cuts. “Unfortunately, the NTMP has been suspended as the result of the loss of its program funding and staff resources,” writes Kristin Bennett, the city transportation planner who had coordinated the program. “Staff cannot speculate at this time if or when the city will be able to provide traffic calming assistance again, given the community's current financial issues. In the interim, your neighborhood can request traffic enforcement through the Colorado Springs Police Department (482-7143) as its resources permit.”
Residents who had spearheaded calming plans in the 17th Street and Broadway neighborhoods were not pleased at the news, although both Karen Pierce (17th) and Anna England (Broadway) said they saw it coming because of city financial woes going back three years.
Still, England observed that the project had once been slated for construction in 2006 (as had 17th Street).
“My feeling is we've been getting the runaround on this since the very beginning,” she said. “Now, with the financial problems the city is having, I wasn't surprised.”
Pierce said she was disappointed because the safety issues along 17th Street haven't gone away. “Unlike many newer neighborhoods, ours does not have sidewalks in many places, and pedestrians, often families with small children in strollers, cross from side to side to find them,” she said. “At the same time, drivers use 17th as a quick connection between Uintah and Colorado Avenue, and they race through the neighborhood. Visibility at the curve [between St. Vrain Street and Armstrong Avenue], where pedestrians tend to cross the street, is very bad. Drivers do not slow down and they tend to cut the curve.”
England sees a continuing danger on Broadway, even though she believes that because of “increased awareness of the problem” there's been some improvement over the years. “It's a long, straight street,” she said. “It attracts people speeding through.” A future worry is that with the addition of the White Acres Open Space off 26th Street and two bicycle-promoting businesses at the nearby Roundhouse commercial center (21st and Highway 24), there will be more cyclists on Broadway, and a car/bike accident could occur. Sadly, she said, that might be what it would take for the city to act.
For 17th Street, the story began 10 years ago, when a neighborhood leader who has since moved away applied to the city for inclusion in the program. England, who went around the neighborhood gathering signatures on a traffic-safety petition, put in the request for Broadway seven years ago. The city selected both locations for calming improvements in 2005. They were two of only three that were picked that year after the city studied 23 locations citywide. At the time, Bennett explained, the two Westside streets scored strongly in the city's set of criteria, including speeding problems, higher-than-appropriate traffic volume and proximity to schools or parks,
At that time, Bennett told neighbors in both areas they would start seeing at least temporary, “test” improvements in early 2006, with permanent work to go in after another meeting with the neighborhoods to discuss the test results. The work on Broadway was to include traffic circles at Westend Avenue (instead of the current stop sign) and at Market Street, plus corner “bump- outs” at Calvert and Market streets. On 17th, plans called for corner bump-outs at the intersections with Platte and with Bijou and a traffic circle at Boulder Street. However, issues kept cropping up, including problems with subcontractors, bad weather and city engineering staff not having time to review the design.
Some lines were painted on the pavement in both areas (to show where the bump-outs and/or traffic circles would go), and Broadway received some test installations in late 2006. However, Bennett said the subcontractor had not done the work right, and she had all but the bump-outs at Calvert and Broadway streets removed. Today the Calvert bump-outs remain, and there are no immediate plans to remove them. “The materials will be pulled if they are damaged,” she said in an e-mail this week. “But for now, they are staying in as staff is hoping to convert the temporary curb bump-outs to permanent bump-outs to shorten the school crossing [it's next to Midland Elementary]. This, however, is dependent on acquiring grant funding if we can. The existing temporary materials are correctly sized and positioned and do serve a function.”
In August 2007, City Traffic Engineering listed 17th Street as the top-priority calming project in the city (Broadway was fourth). At the same time, the city, seeking to cut costs, announced it would forego test installations and go right into final construction. However, the 17th work was delayed once again when engineers decided the drainage impacts from the two planned bump-outs needed further study.
There followed three events that hurt 17th Street's chances. First, the city eliminated the NTMP stipend from the 2008 general fund (it had been getting $60,000 a year). Second, that summer a neighborhood meeting revealed objections to the traffic circle (mystifying city officials who had presided over a neighborhood meeting three years earlier that had OK'd it). Third, in the spring of 2009, the city's request for a school-safety grant to help fund the 17th Street work was turned down, in the wake of School District 11 having decided to close its elementary school at Bijou and 17th.
According to Bennett, the last of the NTMP funds was split between the recently finished Holland Park calming project (see story, Page 8) and the east side's Alta Loma Road project (to be built this winter).
She said Alta Loma had also been approved in 2005, so it has been in the official queue about as long as 17th and Broadway. Another reason it was chosen was that the Westside projects would have cost more than the remaining NTMP money, Bennett said (although she did not have those figures at hand).
The final reason for doing Alta Loma was that a city traffic engineer who was laid off after 2009 because of the city cutbacks only had time to design one last calming project before she left, and that was Alta Loma, Bennett said.
Traffic calming reflects a philosophy that street design can influence how people drive. For example, bump-outs at intersections on Holland Park Boulevard narrow the neighborhood street to roughly a third of its 60-foot width.
Westside Pioneer article