Guest opinion: Traffic is killing downtown business
Since my experience is in small business, I was interested in EA materials referring to business community impacts (Section/3-pp62-68). Situations described in the EA are done in a shallow manner at best and nonsensical at worst. Case studies were supposedly referred to, but in such a general manner as to be meaningless.
The conclusion stated in the report is that the Glenwood Springs downtown economy should fully recover after construction is complete.
We have a case study much more meaningful than Arvada, or St. Croix, Minnesota: that of the Glenwood downtown repaving project. CDOT refers to that project in an aside in this report, but never mentions, nor has it ever studied the 17 small downtown businesses that ceased operations within 24 months of the repaving project. This EA is rather flip, stating that businesses that “already might be struggling, will likely have a challenging time”; the EA does not go to the logical conclusion, which is that most will fail.
A side note: Many businesses downtown are struggling. Sometimes, CDOT only takes into consideration one business: the Hot Springs Pool, which is healthy.
While I was on City Council, CDOT reported on downtown Grand intersections. Between 2003-2007, several intersections were already failing at certain times of the day. Grand Avenue traffic counts could run as high as the Eisenhower tunnels. As a contrast to the tunnels however, Grand has schoolchildren crossing, a library on one side of the street, post office on the other and a business district on both sides of the street trying mightily to stay alive, as ever-worsening traffic strangles the town.
At that time (2003-2007), the city was requesting CDOT look to design/develop an alternate route. Quite a bit of work was started on that study. For some reason, that study was put on hold or dropped altogether. CDOT chose to design/build Grand Avenue bridge replacement.
In the meantime: Downtown is suffering. Tourists, visitors and locals are blunt when asked why they don’t shop downtown any longer: vehicular traffic. Here’s what I hear from previous downtown patrons:
“Downtown traffic is dangerous: too fast, too loud, too dirty.”
“Too many trucks on Grand.”
“ People have a hard time crossing Grand on foot.”
“ Nowadays, it’s hard to get across Grand even my vehicle.”
“Downtown has ceased to be a pleasant shopping destination because of traffic.”
“I can’t hear myself think with the truck noise.”
The proposed wider bridge will carry more traffic (new Basalt developments, another at Cattle Creek). Those folks need goods and materials. Every roll of toilet paper that goes upvalley is carried through the downtown core over Grand Avenue. Rarely (ever?) does the state patrol monitor speeds.
So how does all this talk about “traffic” relate to the bridge?
The wider bridge might be posted at 25 mph, but will be designed/built for 35 mph-plus speeds. Drivers respond to the “feeling” of the thoroughfare, not the posted speed limits. That brings vehicles into downtown at much higher speeds than is safe for the community. Downtown Glenwood is a mixed-use area. There are residences on the 700/800 blocks of Grand, dense residential neighborhoods directly east and west of Grand.
It would be MUCH wiser to:
• Fix the current bridge (perhaps three lanes: one north, one south, one for turning).
• Keeping the historical character of existing bridge into historical downtown.
• Then pursue the needed alternate route. If CDOT will not add any lanes to its current system, then Glenwood Springs should “trade” Colorado Highway 6 & 24 between 7th Street and Mel-Rey to CDOT; take Highway 82 off Grand between 7th and say, perhaps, 27th.
CDOT bridge as it is designed is:
• Too overwhelming for the small-town character of Glenwood; it fits character of L.A.
• Too wide for 25 mph speeds to be reasonably observed.
• Too intrusive into downtown, taking up overwhelming width/footage on 700 block. There would never be any sun reaching the sidewalks.
• Too long into the corner at 8th/Grand.
Downtown needs a healthy mix of retail, restaurants and residents. The Caverns and Hot Springs Pool attract people. Once visitors have been there, they want an interesting and viable downtown. Traffic is killing the retail businesses (which maintain hours when vehicular numbers are highest and most constant).
Glenwood’s need is not an astronomically huge bridge. The need is to fix the current bridge, and put in an alternate route. (Some CDOT employees have disingenuously asked, “Well, where would that route be?” knowing full well a proposed route must go through the process of narrowing down alternatives; the process does not allow any pre-selected route.)
Grand Avenue current conditions: 700 block through north corner of 1000 block vacancies are the highest in my 40 years being “on” Grand. Tourists, visitors and residents are all blunt: It’s the traffic.
Chris McGovern is a downtown resident, former proprietor (1975-2000) and City Council member (2003-2007).
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This will be my 500th column — my final column in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.