Columns » City Sage

The fewer lanes the better

City Sage



When Colorado College was established in 1872, the grandly named Cascade Avenue was just a pair of parallel dirt tracks east of the school's first building, Cutler Hall.

Traffic? There were horse-drawn vehicles, horses and pedestrians. There were no trees to obstruct the vision of pedestrians, no speeding cars, no lumbering trucks, no smoke-belching diesel pickups and no reason to fear for the safety of students.

But as the city and the college grew, the north/south trisection of the campus became more worrying. As early as 1900, CC President William Slocum refused to let mining magnate Winfield Scott Stratton run his streetcar line through the campus at Tejon Street and thereby create another transportation corridor through the campus.

Well into the 1950s, Cascade was a relatively quiet street. The college had yet to expand across Nevada Avenue, which before Interstate 25 was constructed in the late 1950s was known as U.S. Highway 85/87, the main route to Denver, Pueblo and Albuquerque.

During the next few decades the college grew, as did the city. The college expanded to the west and south, eventually acquiring almost all of the dilapidated Victorian houses on blocks bounded by Nevada, Uintah, Weber and Cache la Poudre.

This growth and expansion created much more cross-campus, east-west pedestrian traffic. Every day, hundreds of students and college employees make their way across lightly signalized, mid-block pedestrian crossings, with sadly predictable results. A dozen accidents occur annually, involving some combination of cars, bikes and pedestrians.

The solution, according to comprehensive neighborhood traffic studies undertaken by Colorado College and the Old North End Neighborhood Association, is to "right-size" Cascade, Nevada, Weber and Wahsatch.

On Cascade and Nevada, that would entail slimming the avenues from four lanes to two, instead adding dedicated bike lanes.

Would that actually work? Wouldn't it just create permanent bottlenecks on all four arterials, as well as block emergency vehicles heading for Penrose Hospital? Maybe not. Here are some arguments for rightsizing, taken from the Old North End's website.

• It lowers vehicle speeds. A single lane of traffic tends to move at a steady speed just above the speed limit. Speeders would no longer be able to race around law-abiding drivers.

• It stops street racing, frequent lane-changing and aggressive driving.

• Space now used for a second lane of traffic can become left-turn or right-turn lanes at busy intersections. Turning left or right from special lanes is easier and safer than from a busy lane of moving traffic.

• With the second lane in each direction removed, there is space on the roadway for bicycle lanes. It becomes much safer for bicyclists to pedal through the neighborhood.

• Safety is enhanced because, at intersections and pedestrian crossings, pedestrians and cyclists only need to cross two lanes of active traffic (one northbound and one southbound). Currently, pedestrians and cyclists have to cross four lanes of traffic on an arterial. This benefit most likely would have prevented the January 2016 accident at Colorado College in which a student was hit, dragged and seriously injured on Cascade.

• It improves walkability in the area. The traffic-calming effects create an improved feeling of pedestrian safety. There is less traffic noise (fast accelerations, fast stops with squealing brakes, horn honking, etc.).

When I was a kid growing up on Tejon Street in the 1940s, crossing Nevada at Del Norte to get to Steele School was safe and easy, thanks to an all-weather underpass at the intersection. That solution worked for the docile elementary school students of the 1940s, but it probably wouldn't fly with today's unruly college kids.

And besides, as CC's 2013 transportation plan notes, there's a lot of surplus capacity in those wide arterials. Together they have 16 traffic lanes, carrying between 35,000 and 40,000 vehicles per day, or about 2,200 to 2,500 vehicles per day per lane. It looks as if we could have decent traffic movement, a safer pedestrian environment and amazing bike lanes.

Too good to be true? I dunno. But as an elderly, easily distracted driver, I don't mind slow speeds and safe left turns ... so let's try it.

Comments (6)

Showing 1-6 of 6

Add a comment

Add a comment

Clicky Quantcast