City Transpo putting microscope on West Uintah

       West Uintah Street is on the city's radar for upgrades.
       Some work, intended mainly to aid bicyclists and pedestrians, could occur this year. Other roadway shortfalls lack funding or clear plans at this time, according to a recent presentation by city transportation staff to the board of the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN).
       The city plans at least two public meetings this year, with the first one Wednesday, March 28 at the Westside Community Center. The goal is to get citizen thoughts on West Uintah specifically and as a whole, so as to help the city develop a sensible upgrade strategy that could be implemented in coming years with minimal “throwaway,” as City Transportation staffer Kristin Bennett put it.

In a view east from 19th Street, it can be seen how Uintah Street narrows past the Rick's Garden Center parking area (partially seen at far right) and across from the Uintah Gardens access at left. Complicating any future widening is the steep drop-off from Uintah to the Rick's Nursery property, just east of the Garden Center.
Westside Pioneer photo

       The part of the roadway posing the biggest upgrade challenges is a segment east of 19th Street, she explained at the OWN meeting. The city perceives the road there as:
  • Too narrow near the access to the Uintah Gardens shopping center (resulting in occasional back-ups and also allowing insufficient space for a sidewalk or bike lane on the south side of the street).
  • Too wide around 17th Street (creating a “freeway feel” that can encourage speeding, Bennett pointed out).
           Widening the area near the access would pose major logistical issues, in that there is a drop-off of 10 feet or more on the south side of the street down to the Rick's Nursery property. And just west of that business is the Rick's Garden Center. Any significant widening there could eliminate the parking in front of his store, according to Garden Center owner Mike Estes. “It's almost an impossible situation,” he said, when asked about the narrow segment.
           Rick's Nursery also would lose space if the street were widened, owner Chuck Reed said, adding that there would be “a lot of engineering issues.”
           Money shortages could limit the extent of any Uintah im-provements and/or stretch out the time it takes to complete them. Fixing all the street's needs (including undersized stormwater pipess) would likely exceed $1 million, staff agreed at the OWN meeting, but the only money currently available for Uintah is $137,000 for bicycle/pedestrian-related upgrades. Those dollars come from a $110,000 federal Transportation En-hancement (TE) grant, approved in 2008, to be matched by $27,000 from the city's general fund. The TE project description called for upgrades as needed to allow bicycle lanes along Uintah between Walnut and 20th Street and for shared lane markings - commonly known as sharrows - to be stamped on the pavement between 20th and 30th.
           However, since the approval of that grant, City Transportation has beenlooking at ways to use the TE money in conjunction with other options for the Walnut-to-20th section, in hopes of greater cost effectiveness.
           One option is the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA). An item on the RTA's B list among the projects approved by voters in 2004 was titled “Uintah Street safety improvements,” priced at $900,000. It called for a road cut and retaining wall on the north side of Uintah to make room for a sidewalk and bike lane between Mesa Road and Cooper Street. Although RTA sales-tax revenue reductions leave the impression that only A-list items will be affordable before the current RTA ends in 2014, Bennett told OWN that “staff is looking at options to fund the B and C projects.”
           Another option is the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding, federal funds which the city typically uses for sidewalks and curb and gutter projects. Bennett said that staff has been talking about partnering on the Uintah project with the City Housing Development Department, which oversees CDBG funding.
           The TE project description shows sharrow lanes for 20th to 30th, stating that there isn't room for dedicated bike lanes along that segment. Plus, the traffic volumes are less west of 20th - Uintah carries 20,000 to 30,000 vehicles a day between 21st and I-25 and only 6,500 from 20th to 30th, the description states.
           Sharrows have been a point of contention on the Westside in the past year. The city had announced plans to stamp sharrows on Colorado Avenue and 30th Street last spring, but then put those plans on indefinite hold after OWN and others on the Westside raised questions about the safety rationale of attracting cyclists to busy streets with limited space.
           As for the Uintah sharrows, OWN President Welling Clark said this week, “While I personally think that encouraging the mixing of bicycle and automobile traffic is a recipe for accidents (and I can tell you who will lose in that altercation), I will support the will of the residents.”

    Westside Pioneer article