Road ahead for Springs includes more bike lanes

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Motorists and cyclists appear to have gotten used to the new parking-protected bike lanes on Weber Street, says the senior bike planner for Colorado Springs.

“They seem to be working safely for all users,” said Kate Brady, who joined the city in 2016.

Along with bike lanes that have been added to Cascade Avenue between Colorado and Platte avenues, the Weber lanes are the beginning of a network that will connect downtown with the Middle Shooks Run, Pikes Peak Greenway and Legacy Loop trails and eventually extend throughout the city.

Brady has been working for the past two years on the city’s bike master plan, which sets a course for building the network, encouraging bicycling as a transportation option and promoting a strong cycling identity for the city.

She will present a draft of the plan, called COS Bikes!, to city council for discussion at a work session at 1 p.m. March 26 in council chambers. The draft can be viewed on the city’s website at coloradosprings.gov/bikeplan.

The changes on Weber Street last fall were met by some confusion about the unusual configuration, which wasn’t unexpected, Brady said. Four lanes of vehicle traffic were reduced to one lane in each direction, with a center turn lane. Bike lanes were painted next to the curbs, and parking spaces were moved between the bike and vehicle lanes.

A few incidents were reported, but “there were very few,” Brady said.

“We responded to those concerns by adding white delineator posts to clarify the turning radius,” Brady said. “We also removed a couple of parking spaces so people had sightlines to get out of driveways.”

Weber is the first downtown street to get a buffered-lane makeover, and it won’t be the last.

Changes are coming to Pikes Peak Avenue as well, where protected bike lanes will be added later this spring.

Some merchants are skeptical about the changes and concerned about the effects on parking and traffic to their stores. But bike enthusiasts and planners say they ultimately will benefit and strengthen downtown.

Some business affected

Brady said she hasn’t heard much from businesses along Weber, where the bike lanes will connect downtown to the Lowell neighborhood.

At least one merchant, though, has been very vocal about his opposition to the bike lanes on Cascade.

Jim Ciletti, owner of Hooked on Books at 12 E. Bijou St., said businesses on Bijou have suffered since parking meters were “decapitated” in October.

“Within 200 feet of our store, we’ve lost 12 to 13 parking spaces, and it’s had a huge impact,” Ciletti said, because of the removal of parking meters combined with construction of the Hilton Garden Inn at Cascade and Bijou. “Our bottom line dropped 10 to 15 percent from November until now.”

Ciletti said he has customers who live in the North End a mile away who no longer come to the downtown store because they can’t park. Instead, they drive five miles to Hooked on Books’ Maizeland Road store.

“As soon as we noticed the parking meters decapitated for bike lanes, every business owner on Bijou presented a petition to council for the meters to be replaced, but nothing has been done,” he said. “They basically eliminated parking in the downtown commerce zone for bicycle lanes that are dangerous. Cars turning right onto Platte Avenue from Cascade have to cross the bike lane. Two cyclists I’ve spoken with say Cascade is too dangerous to ride on, that putting in the bike lane gives them a false sense of security.”

Although they don’t directly affect him, Ciletti isn’t fond of the lanes on Weber, either.

“When you park on Weber, you’re opening your door on the street side into oncoming traffic,” he said.Ciletti said he does not believe cyclists contribute much to commerce.

“They’re on a recreation ride,” he said. “They’re not going to buy four books and lug them home, or take a pizza home on the back of their bike.”

Ciletti acknowledges that residents who will occupy new apartments being built downtown will support downtown commerce if they can hop on a shuttle, trolley or other form of transportation so they don’t have to get in their cars and drive a short distance. But he does not believe bikes are the solution.

“Nobody’s going out on a cold day if they can’t find a place to park or if there’s not a shuttle,” he said, adding he would like to see the city “make the parking garages user-friendly for the merchants.”

A better way to grow

A bike- and pedestrian-friendly city center is a key goal of the Experience Downtown Master Plan, adopted by city council in 2016. The plan envisions a resurgence in downtown living and transit and infrastructure improvements that create more walkable and bikeable destinations.

“There’s a large body of evidence that shows if we can complete a good network of bike infrastructure, businesses will be supported by that,” said Cory Sutela, advocacy chair for Bicycle Colorado Springs. “I don’t want to diminish concerns about parking, but we can move a lot more people in the same space if we can transition away from single-occupant cars. If people have more choices, I think we can get more people to the places they want to go.”

Sutela said recreational use is a traditional view of biking, “but more and more cities are observing that we simply don’t have room to build more roads for single-occupancy cars. As we continue to grow our population, we need a better way to get people around. People would be happy with bicycle transportation if it were safe and convenient for them.”

Sutela said bike access and bike parking could drive more business, especially to retail stores and restaurants.

McCabe’s Tavern (now closed to make way for redevelopment on South Tejon Street) “was the first business to recognize they would get a lot more customers in by devoting space to bike parking,” Sutela said. “I’ve seen a lot of bikes there. You can fit a lot more customers in.”

Businesses also would benefit by attracting employees who can commute to work on bikes.

“There is a significant number of people who commute by bike,” Sutela said. “We don’t have current hard numbers, but downtown businesses show a higher bike commuting percentage than in some other parts of the city. As we improve bike infrastructure, that number is going to increase.”

Davin Neubacher, founder of IT consulting firm Navakai, said three or four of his 28 employees commute by bike to the firm’s office at 19 S. Tejon St. In addition, the company has three bikes they use to get to client sites.

“Probably six to eight of our folks ride bikes during the day at lunch,” Neubacher said. “We tie the bikes into our corporate wellness program. If I can increase interest in that, our health insurance cost goes down and employee morale improves.”

Besides attracting individuals and families to downtown, Neubacher said a bike-friendly city “makes it more attractive for people to live here, especially for the nation’s largest workforce — Millennials. As the owner of a growing business, attracting the right employees is absolutely critical for us. If we pay them fairly, treat them well and have an office location in a city that offers a good quality of life, then we’ve probably got that person on our team for a long time. That saves my company time and money. I see a direct economic impact.”

Giving bikes a chance

“We know that a culturally vibrant downtown attracts workforce,” said Laurel Prud’homme, vice president of communications at the Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs. The organization was a key participant in the development of Experience Downtown and has worked with Brady on COS Bikes!

“People are looking to get around the urban center without vehicles, and the lanes that have gone in are the first step,” Prud’homme said.

Businesses in office buildings “are very supportive of the downtown bike lanes, because that’s what their employees want,” Prud’homme said. “From street-level businesses, it’s pretty mixed. Some feel the parking spaces that were taken away to accommodate the bike lanes were pretty significant, and others have not seen a negative effect.”

The true impacts of the added downtown bike lanes won’t be known until the network of safe riding lanes is completed, said John Olson, director of urban design and landscape architecture at Altitude Land Consultants. Olson said he rides his bike to work at least once a week in summer.

“I still am a big proponent for onstreet parking throughout downtown — I think that’s still a critical element,” Olson said. “But once there’s a network and it becomes an easy trip, I think the impacts will be great economically for individual businesses.”

Sutela said a large body of evidence from cities throughout the country and the world supports that projection.

“I know some businesses are skeptical, but let’s try to get the downtown bike transportation network working and give it a chance,” Sutela said. “The cost of infrastructure is really low, and I think we’re going to see results.” 

Editor’s note: Navakai is a vendor to the Colorado Springs Business Journal.

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