First decisions on traffic-lane options in avenue study

       Three lanes? Four lanes? Or five?

A graphic table, presented at the Nov. 15 Westside Avenue Action Plan meeting, shows the five types of roadway cross-sections (with informational columns) that consultants offered for public discussion. Both configurations with medians were eliminated from consideration during the meeting.
Westside Pioneer photo

       In the “reality show” of the Westside Avenue Action Plan study, all three of these options for traffic flow have survived to the next public meeting (to be scheduled in early/mid-December).
       The three were among five in all that were presented for discussion at the Nov. 8 meeting on the avenue west of 31st Street. Following discussions with study consultants and government staffers and a vote among the roughly 40 citizens on hand, the options that did not move on were those for two lanes and four lanes with no turn lanes and raised medians.
       Medians would especially be a tough fit for the Bec-kers-to-33rd part of the avenue, denying left turns into many of its 90-plus ac-cess points, consultants say.
       Supported by the governments of El Paso County, Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs, the study is intended to shape a plan, leading to a detailed design and eventual construction of more than $12 million in civic improvements to the 1.5-mile stretch, nicknamed “No Man's Land.” The study consultant, Felsburg Holt & Ullevig (FHU), was hired last spring through a $300,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT). Most of the construction cost will be funded by the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) capital tax extension approved by voters Nov. 6.
       Also at the two-hour meeting was an upbeat analysis by FHU sub-consultants of the land along the corridor and prospects for redevelopment. From a market standpoint, considering the nearby historical and tourist attractions, Tom Binnings, a senior partner with Summit Economics, said, “I think the long-term opportunities are very enticing.”
       For the traffic-lane discussion, consultants at the Nov. 8 meeting provided graphics in table form that displayed roadway cross-sections for each of the five options, with informational columns next to them.
       The consultants made no secret of advocating the three-lane solution. The only comment against it, displayed on one graphic, was that it would increase travel time (about 10 seconds, according to previous estimates for the 1.5-mile stretch). Consultants like it because the middle lane could be used for turns from either direction, and having slower traffic is seen as an amenity, making the corridor safer. Three lanes also leaves room for side amenities (such as bike lanes and/or broader sidewalks) that could fit within the existing right of way.
       According to Steve Murray, FHU project manager, the current avenue configuration - four lanes without turn lanes - results in a “high number of rear-end accidents” when motorists behind the turners don't stop in time.
       Consultants do not want to reduce the 90-some access points that lead to those turns, because most of them go to businesses and as such are part of the “economic vitality” of the corridor, Murray said.
       Citizens, while not showing strong opposition to the three-lane idea, gave some pushback to it. With one lane each way instead of two, there would be more of a steady stream of cars, making it harder for locals coming in from side streets to find an opening into avenue traffic, two attendees pointed out. A remedy would be to add one or more stoplights. Columbia Road, by the access to the large Garden of the Gods Campground, is one location being considered, Murray said, as well as Ridge Road, which at some point in the future will carry all traffic from the avenue into Red Rock Canyon, based on CDOT's plans for a no-access overpass at Ridge and Highway 24.
       Another three-lane criticism is that the configuration is predicted to handle only 80 percent of the current traffic, with an increase of 15 percent foreseen by the year 2035.
       The four-lane and five-lane solutions, on the other hand would have room for 40 percent and 50 percent capacity, respectively, consultant figures show. The five-lane method would also be 10 seconds faster than the current four-lane.
       Both the four- and five-lane ideas got some support in voice votes at the meeting - enough that consultants agreed to bring them forward to the next public (stakeholders) meeting.
       The four-lane thinking, expressed by one citizen advocate, was that with certain improvements that current alignment could still work best of all.
       A drawback to the five-lane scenario is that it would exceed the existing right of way, requiring governments to use eminent domain to acquire the necessary road width, consultants pointed out.
       Another reason to support more lanes was given by a citizen who pointed to the high avenue traffic volumes caused by evacuees at one point during the Waldo Canyon Fire. Gold Hill Police Commander Pat Rigdon responded that police could change the direction of lanes, if need be.

Westside Pioneer article