Public comment sought on Action Plan alternatives for lane usage

       About 70 citizens came to Manitou Springs City Hall Sept. 18 to learn about ideas in a study seeking to improve the “No Man's Land” stretch of Colorado/Manitou Avenue and to offer comments of their own.

Map shows different government jurisdictions in the Westside Avenue Action Plan corridor. Green is El Paso County, purple is Manitou Springs, and everything else is within the city limits of Colorado Springs. In addition, the avenue west of 31st is under the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Courtesy of Westside Avenue Action Plan team

       Steve Murray, the study's project manager with the planning/engineering firm of Felsburg Holt & Ullevig (FHU), said afterward that he was “really encouraged, personally” by conversations he had with various attendees at the two-hour open house. “I thought it was a great turnout,” he said. “People there were engaged. It was almost like a community get-together.”
       The study, called the Westside Avenue Action Plan and adminstrated by El Paso County using a $300,000 Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) grant, is focused on the avenue between 31st Street and the Manitou/Highway 24 interchange.
       This area has gained the “No Man's Land' nickname after years without major civic upgrades. Identified problems include missing or intermittent sidewalks and curb and gutter, no crosswalks, a 1934 bridge over Fountain Creek at Columbia Road, antiquated bus stops, aging utilities with overhead power lines, drainage problems and a missing link in the Midland Trail.
       Murray said he still needs to meet with the rest of his 10-person study team as well as to review comments that have been (and still can be) submitted by citizens. However, based on the technical data and responses he heard at the meeting, he is starting to lean toward a traffic alternative in which the current layout most of the way - four lanes with no turn lanes - would transition to two with a center turn lane between about 32nd Street and Beckers Lane. In an area where 87 percent of the drivers now exceed the speed limit, this design would reduce accidents by 35 percent, according to study findings on a display board at the meeting.
       One reason for that is having just one lane each way will tend to slow traffic (actually make it feel like a slower road, as Murray explained it), yet the actual time to traverse the roughly 1.5-mile study segment would be an average of just 10 seconds longer than now, another display board revealed.
       Tim Seibert, a planner on the Westside Avenue team, said the reason is that the present layout invites more weaving and stop-and-go traffic because of drivers feeling they can go fast but having to move from lane to lane to avoid slowdowns caused by people turning left or right.
       On a handout titled “Comment Form” that was made available at the open house, attendees were asked for responses on different issues, including one seeking preferences on traffic lane numbers and/or a two-way left-turn lane and another asking about bike lanes on the roadway (on both sides, uphill side only or none at all).

An excerpt from one of the display boards shows the width that would be needed in the avenue right of way to enlarge a sidewalk to meet aesthetic goals.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Responses to the Comment Form questions will continue to be taken, Murray said. The form was not yet posted on the Westside Avenue website this week. To get a copy in the meantime (or for other information), call the project number at 629-7566 or e-mail info@westsideavenueplan.com.
       Citizens at the meeting were also handed sheets with green sticky-dots that they could put on certain display boards to show if they liked various “value” statements. Based on the dots, attendees felt most strongly about sidewalks, crosswalks, trail connections, public safety and making the area attractive to businesses. A high number of dots also went next to the statements: “Collabora-tion between Old Colorado City and Manitou Springs”; “Maintain historic significance of corridor”; “Ridge Road intersection needs improvements”; “Positive community image”; and “A seamless connection and transportation modes between Old Colorado City and Manitou Springs.”
       One planning challenge is due to the limited right of way. Near the Red Rock shopping center, the avenue is at least 85 feet wide. But from there to the Manitou interchange the avenue slims down, with its widest point 69 feet near Ridge Road and its narrowest 55 feet not far west of the bridge at Columbia.
       With about 90 property owners along the avenue in the study area, no one on the team is talking about trying to buy right of way along the whole stretch. But one potentially achievable goal is purchasing right of way at “pinch points” (such as the 55-foot location), Seibert said.
       The issue then will be deciding what amenities can fit in the space. For example, the two-lanes-with-turn-lane scenario by itself takes up 51 feet. So that would leave 10 to 15 feet for other amenities.
       Consultants presented such options on one board, including (as measured on one side) on-street parking (8 feet), sidewalk planting (6 feet), bus shelter (12 feet), bike lane (4 feet) and street artwork (11 feet).
       Another challenge, as noted by Murray and Seibert, is simply the layout of the road, especially in the area of Ridge and Columbia. At the intersection of Ridge and Colorado, Seibert noted, the problem is complicated by the nearby proximity of Pikes Peak Avenue, and Ridge's short, abrupt uphill between the parallel roads.
       The bridge at Columbia will not be simple to replace because integrated into its construction are creek retaining walls. “It's like a sweater where if you pull one thread the whole sweater unravels,” Murray said. Adding to the puzzle, the bridge is not currently designed for a 100-year flood, but even if it were, the creek channel beneath it is not, he added.
       Working on such issues will involve meetings of “technical groups,” including members of the public, he said. The effort will likely occur within the informal stakeholder committee framework that is part of the study. A date for the next stakeholder meeting has not yet been scheduled, but will be soon, Murray said.

Westside Pioneer article