City needs a respectful plan for Grand Avenue |

City needs a respectful plan for Grand Avenue

My Side
John Burg
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
John Burg

The Access Control Plan proposed at the Dec. 20 workshop of the Glenwood Springs City Council and Transportation Commission lacks a basic respect for the city. The consultant’s recommendations were not surprising given the Colorado Department of Transportation’s primary mission of moving traffic quickly through Glenwood – and the fact that the consultant’s primary training and experience is in the area of moving vehicles.

The city’s vitality over the coming decades demands that the needs of the city and the downtown be respected and balanced with those of CDOT. It is not unreasonable to expect Grand Avenue to be designed so that traffic does not exceed existing speed limits, and that signalized crossings of Grand Avenue be maintained and enhanced, not decreased.

From a city and downtown perspective, the latest consultant recommendations are a move backward.

The most egregious is the proposal to eliminate the traffic signal at Eighth Street, the city’s historic and current heart and its most pedestrian-used intersection. The proposal would have pedestrians at this intersection detour to the north under the bridge, or south to Ninth Street.

No amount of wayfinding signage directing pedestrians to an under-the-bridge crossing will prevent a decline in pedestrians who cross Grand Avenue. People like streets, especially well-designed streets with active storefronts. They prefer crossing at open air intersections to more circuitous, below ground, or under-the-bridge crossings.

The elimination of the Eighth Street traffic signal will simply result in a less pedestrian-friendly and weaker downtown.

The proposal for Eighth Street also has significant negative impacts on downtown drivers. A westbound motorist driving toward Grand Avenue on Eighth, trying to cross Grand Avenue or turn left, would be forced to turn right on Grand, ending up at Sixth and Laurel – not a pleasant experience for a visitor or a local.

An obvious compromise to meet city and downtown needs, and still meet most of CDOT’s objectives, would be to retain the Eighth Street traffic signal and eliminate left turns from Grand Avenue at this intersection. Yet this idea was missing from the recommendations.

The recommendations also include the removal of other Grand Avenue traffic signals. Each of these signals provides a means for locals and visitors, as pedestrians and drivers, to cross Grand Avenue – a task that will grow more difficult with time. There is no good reason, nor is it in the city’s interest, to remove traffic signals from Grand Avenue.

The proposal includes new medians in the center of Grand Avenue. This sounds not too bad at first glance. However, the medians would necessitate the removal of on-street parking, resulting in the loss of parking and the buffer the parking provides between pedestrians and vehicular traffic. On-street parking also provides an important psychological signal to drivers, helping to keep traffic moving at a slower, more respectful speed.

The consulting firm made the contorted interpretation that its proposals were consistent with “a more walkable downtown” and the city’s Comprehensive Plan. This is an astounding statement in light of the fact that the proposal totally eliminates pedestrian crossings of Grand Avenue at the city’s 100 percent pedestrian intersection, and eliminates traffic signals at others.

It’s fair to say that no one with significant urban design or downtown development experience would reach such a conclusion. In my 40 years of downtown development and urban design experience in Sarasota, Fla., and Minneapolis, it is difficult to recall a more damaging proposal.

Changes resulting from the bridge and Access Control Plan should result in a better city, not a move backward. The Access Control Plan should be revisited. It should include the views of local residents and the downtown business community as well as urban design and downtown development professionals.

Because Highway 82 bisects the heart of Glenwood Springs, it is supremely critical that it be designed in a manner that slows vehicular traffic, enhances opportunities for pedestrian and vehicular cross-traffic and, in short, respects the city.

John Burg is a resident of Glenwood Springs. He is a retired city planner with 40 years of experience in Minneapolis, Minn., and Sarasota, Fla., where he was in the lead role of urban design and downtown development.

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