‘Road dieting’ in Old Town...Would it work?

       Whoosh! There goes another car, trying to beat the lights through Old Colorado City. The speed limit on Colorado Avenue between 24th and 27th streets is 25 mph, but you'd hardly know it. An edited photo looking west on Colorado Avenue from
24th Street imagines a two-laning through Old Colorado
City. In Manitou Springs, the center lane is used for turns
and delivery vehicles. Note extra room between parked
cars and traffic, which could ease parking or serve as a
bicycle lane.
Westside Pioneer photo and graphic
       “It's always surprised me, and it is strange, that we have all these lanes, yet it's a historic district,” commented Bernideen Canfield, owner of Bernideen's retail shop. “It's not a pedestrian-friendly area. Trucks go through and there's a horse-drawn carriage (the 3G's business). My husband and I are afraid there will be real bad crash.”
       So, what if the avenue changed through Old Colorado City? Picture two lanes instead of four, with a middle lane for left turns or mid-block deliveries and space for bicycle lanes and people to parallel-park without blocking traffic. The change wouldn't have to be costly - just a restriping. Traffic would probably slow down as a result, but would that be so bad?
       Maybe yes, maybe no, according to random interviews with Old Town business people (see responses farther down in this article). About the only thing everyone in Old Colorado City seemed to agree on about the avenue is that it has a lot of speeders. The original photo looking west on Colorado Avenue from 24th Street.
Westside Pioneer photo
       The two-lane experiment has been tried elsewhere in the region. Manitou Springs, necked down Manitou Avenue through its downtown area in June 2004.
       Other than plans to restore the avenue to four lanes near the middle school and high school (because of traffic backups), the city is happy with the result, according to Mayor Marcy Morrison. “The retail people tell me it slows traffic down, so there's less noise from the traffic,” she said. “There's a selfish motive too. If drivers slow down they might see something in a store that catches their eye… We are touting a walkable community, and that's part of it.”
       Colorado Springs Traffic is interested in the idea also. A concept it calls “road dieting” is being tried on several streets around town. Complaints arose at one of the locations where traffic lanes were reduced this summer (South Tejon Street), but the issue there - people backing onto the street - does not exist in Old Colorado City.
       David Krauth, City Traffic director, said he would be happy to look into a “dieting plan” for Old Colorado City, if such was requested. However, he added, such an effort would depend on available city funds.
       Jim Heikes, owner of Thunder Mountain Trading Company, was among several Old Town business people presented with the idea by the Westside Pioneer. Slowing traffic probably wouldn't lead to more shoppers, he said, because Old Colorado City is a destination shopping area anyway. And, he's concerned about traffic slowing down too much. “There's so much traffic on the road, I'm afraid it would be a bottleneck,” Heikes said. “What will happen will be everyone bypassing this area. I'd rather have them here, even if they're going faster.”
       Judy Kasten, owner of Kasten Accounting, expressed a sentiment held by several people - that the best thing City Traffic could do for Old Colorado City, in terms of slowing traffic, is to put a stoplight at 24th and Colorado Avenue. “It's the entrance to Old Colorado City; it deserves to have a light,” she said. (However, a study by Krauth's department has determined that the traffic at 24th does not justify a stoplight, flashing lights or even a crosswalk.)
       Howard Walters, who owns three retail shops in Old Colorado City, agrees traffic is “going by too fast,” but thinks that the best remedy is timing the lights so motorists can only make them by going at a slower speed. As for two-laning Colorado Avenue, “if you're not going to add parking, it's not worth it,” Walters said.
       Cretee Nemmer, owner of the All That Glitters jewelry store, responded that two-laning “might be better in some ways. Drivers could see what stores are down here. Everyone's going too fast anyway.”
       The change Nemmer would really like to see, however, is Old Colorado City becoming less challenging for pedestrians. She suggested mid-block crosswalks like Manitou has.
       Another concern of Canfield's is the truck traffic. When she formerly had a shop in Texas town's historic district, “There were no trucks,” she said. “It was supposed to be for pedestrians.”
       Ric Geiman is not a businessman, but is the City Parks official responsible for maintaining the public improvements in Old Colorado City. He thought two-laning “a good idea” because it would make the avenue seem less like an thoroughfare. “Every time now when I drive through slowly, I've got somebody on my tail, (making an obscene gesture),” he said.
       Dave Hughes, owner of Old Colorado City Communications and a key figure in the historic district's revival 30 years ago, offered a neutral response. Calling the two- lane proposal an “interesting concept,” he noted that its business pros and cons are unknown. Necking down from four to two lanes “is a bit of an irritant (when he goes to Manitou Springs),” he said. “But everything has a trade-off.” To effect such a change in Old Colorado City, “it would have to be studied pretty carefully,” he added. “The devil is in the details.”
       Historically, Colorado Avenue is known to have been a four-lane road for motor vehicles back into the early part of the 20th century, according to local historian Mel McFarland. In the streetcar days (up to 1932), “it was actually five lanes,” he pointed out. The fifth lane, in the middle, was used by the streetcars. Yet there was still room for parallel parking. This was because cars were noticeably narrower then, allowing lanes that weren't so wide. Instead of the typical 12-foot lane we see today, the lanes then were 9 to 10 feet wide, McFarland said.

Westside Pioneer article