Guest Opinion Making the best of Grand and downtown
The polarizing controversy surrounding the replacement of the Grand Avenue bridge has diverted attention from much progress that has been made specific to the bridge project as well as other improvements to Glenwood’s downtown. These efforts warrant praise and need to continue for Glenwood to achieve its great potential.
First, some basic conclusions regarding the bridge replacement. We live in a very tight valley. Many past efforts have failed to produce a politically viable and funded bypass. These two basic prerequisites for a project of this scope (political consensus and funding) are nowhere near present today, nor do they appear possible in the foreseeable future.
The Downtown Development Authority (DDA), the City Council and many individual citizens are to be commended for their diligent efforts in working with CDOT on the design details of the replacement bridge to make the new bridge and related projects best meet city objectives. Included in this package is a new pedestrian and bicycle bridge that is sensitive to city values. It is critical that all the amenities in this bridge package be funded and built.
The resultant high volumes of vehicular traffic on Grand Avenue are far higher than ideal for Glenwood’s main street. However, the solution is not to view Grand Avenue as a high-speed highway such as in Basalt or El Jebel. Pedestrian bridges or tunnels are not the answer in a town setting such as ours.
Experience shows that pedestrians far prefer to cross at grade. Rather, the solution is to have the highway behave as a city street as it passes through Glenwood. Thanks to the efforts of the professional citizens mentioned above, much of this has been accomplished through the development of an Access Control Plan approved by the city and CDOT in the summer of 2013. Stoplights, originally slated for removal, will be retained. On-street parking, which slows traffic, provides parking and creates a buffer for pedestrians, must also be retained.
One remaining critical element to improve the pedestrian experience downtown is sophisticated traffic signal timing on Grand. Greater time must be given to pedestrians crossing Grand, particularly during off-peak vehicular periods. Signal timing can be adjusted for time of day, days of the week and seasons of the year. This will allow for needed vehicular flow during vehicular peak periods while giving pedestrians more time and comfort during off-peak times. This is a low-cost solution that has been implemented in many other cities. CDOT has little motivation to do this since it is primarily in the business of moving vehicles. CDOT needs a push from city officials.
The city and its downtown are, of course, far more than Grand Avenue. Somewhat lost in Grand Avenue issues is the significant progress the DDA and City Council have made downtown. Recent projects include: new downtown parking garages; the new mixed-use building for the library and CMC; and new streetscape improvements on Cooper Avenue and Seventh Street. Significant private investment has followed. This type of high-quality pedestrian environment on Seventh will be a natural for Sixth Street between Laurel and Grand once the new bridge and related improvements are in place.
When the dust settles on the bridge projects, more opportunities await. Through the creation of the Confluence Area Plan and relocation of the sewer plant, the city is poised to reclaim this magnificent area as a place to view the two rivers, live, eat, recreate and generally enjoy our wonderful and improving city.
John Burg is a resident of Glenwood Springs as well as a retired city planner with 40 years of experience in Minneapolis and Sarasota, Florida, in which he was in the lead role of urban design and downtown development.
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