John Hazlehurst

Who owns downtown’s streets? That’s a question that never will be definitively resolved and one that we’ve been fighting over for 147 years.

According to Newport in the Rockies, Marshall Sprague’s definitive history of Colorado Springs, by late July 1871, Gen. William Palmer’s associate, Gen. Robert Cameron, had platted “1,000 lots, wide streets and parks running half a mile or so east from Monument Creek and nearly 2 miles from north to south … Cameron made the streets of the Springs unusually wide — from 100 to 140 feet, including space for sidewalks.”

Throughout the 1870s, streets were for horses and horse-drawn vehicles, and sidewalks were for pedestrians. Wide streets enabled drivers to turn a team of horses around and reverse directions, simplifying deliveries of goods and construction materials. Palmer’s railroad delivered materials and new residents, livery stables near the D&RG depot housed horses that served the community, and everything was settled — until it wasn’t.

By the early 1890s, street railways and bicycles transported thousands every day. Cyclists, horses and trolley cars competed for slices of roadway, only to be displaced by another new technology — private automobiles and rubber-tired buses.

When the trolleys finally shut down in the late 1930s, bicycles had long disappeared as a means of adult transportation. Private automobiles ruled downtown and have ever since. There have been sporadic efforts to revive the city’s once-magnificent street railway system, but issues around cost and existing roadway use patterns have repeatedly derailed such plans.

But now Gen X and Millennial cyclists, who have recently laid claim to separate bike lanes on Weber and Pikes Peak, have undermined downtown automobile supremacy.

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As a longtime cyclist and occasional bike commuter, I think that’s great — but as a Westsider who enjoys driving to downtown to bars and restaurants with my non-biking spouse, I’m not so sure.

Downtown’s accelerating growth has brought new jobs, new residents and more visitors. Apartment complexes are under construction, existing businesses are expanding and new businesses are opening. That means more activity, more cool things to do, more cars on the street and more right-of-way wars.

There’s a skirmish going on right now, centering on the once-quiet mixed commercial and residential neighborhood south of Cimarron Street between Cascade and Nevada avenues. Three major projects are under construction, including a 27-unit apartment building on the 400 block of South Tejon, the nearly finished expansion and renovation of multiple buildings (including the former SouthSide Johnny’s) in the 500 block and a 184-unit apartment building on half a city block on the east side of the 600 block of South Cascade.

For existing business and property owners, that means a lot more traffic, a lot more vehicles and a lot more demand for parking. So how is the city going to deal with this explosive prosperity?

“They’re going to put in parking meters, create more bike lanes and make it more difficult for our customers,” said Michelle Mourges Marx, who with her daughter Turu Sukhotin owns Coquette’s Bistro & Bakery at 616 S. Cascade. “There are no plans to create more off-street parking. They seem to think that our customers will walk or take their bikes. We’re excited about all the new residents, but a lot of our customers don’t live within walking or biking distance.”

Marx got into it with city officials, who shrugged off her complaints, citing the 2016 Experience Downtown Master Plan, which calls for “a walkable and bike-friendly center connected through safe and accessible multimodal networks.”

The neighborhood is already a dining destination, even as restaurants in the renovated former SouthSide Johnny’s location join Oscar’s, Shuga’s, Coquette’s, Iron Bird, the Bench, Loyal Coffee and FH Beerworks. The new apartment complexes will have dedicated parking for residents, but visitors will be on their own.

Judging from the explosive debates on social media over the Pikes Peak Avenue bike lanes (which soon appeared to pit conservatives against liberals, old settlers against young upstarts, and natives against newcomers), the bike/auto wars won’t end soon. Yet at some point the city will need a modern light rail or street railroad system, like those that revitalized Portland, Denver, Kenosha and other American cities. So watch out, bike and auto people — the streets are always up for grabs!

“’Cause summer’s here and the time is right for fighting in the street…”