The bike lanes on downtown Colorado Springs streets have aroused a lot of controversy since they were installed last year. They spurred vigorous debate at a discussion Feb. 25 at Studio Bee at the Pikes Peak Center, which attracted more than 300 people.
City officials tout bike infrastructure as essential to luring and keeping young workers.
“The current workforce development needs of our high-tech companies in Colorado Springs require us to attract about 4,000 young professionals a year to fill software engineering, cybersecurity and other high-tech positions,” Mayor John Suthers said in an email.
Bike lanes are trendy, but they are much more. Along with PikeRide, the Downtown Partnership’s bike share system, they are the first visible signs of Colorado Springs’ future multimodal transit system.
“To move to a carless community, I don’t know if we’ll ever get there,” said Tim Roberts, the city’s principal transportation planner. But he foresees a better connected community that offers choices in the ways citizens and visitors get around.
Improving walkability and bikeability is a cornerstone goal of PlanCOS, the city’s comprehensive plan, which was adopted in January.
“As our city becomes larger and more diverse, … a smart and multimodal system will become even more vital to our success and quality of life,” PlanCOS states.
PlanCOS assumes that many residents and visitors will continue to travel primarily by vehicle but that alternative modes such as transit, ride-sharing, electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles will become increasingly available and desirable.
The plan sets a policy goal of maximizing multimodal transportation options in the downtown area to reduce the need for individual car ownership. It also envisions multimodal corridors that connect key destinations, and smart streets, where cameras and sensors could provide traffic data, optimize signal timing and interact with smart vehicles.
Several other plans flesh out the city’s vision for transportation in the future.
Approved in April 2018, the Bike Master Plan outlines a connected network of trails, track and onstreet infrastructure to support and encourage bicycle use.
The Experience Downtown Colorado Springs plan, adopted in 2016, looks more closely at the area within the Legacy Loop, a ring of trails and parks that encircles the city’s heart, and seeks to strengthen its role as a regional employment, retail and entertainment center. Key goals include creating a bike- and pedestrian-friendly city center and multimodal networks connecting downtown with destinations throughout the city.
The 2001 Intermodal Transportation Plan, which began mapping out the city’s mobility framework, has been amended several times and is being updated this year. It will become the Intermodal Mobility Plan, which will evaluate how the city’s current transportation structure is functioning and outline implementation of the transportation goals in PlanCOS.
“The trend nationally is to move away from a commitment to vehicles,” Roberts said. “It’s up to the city to develop our system and make sure we have the connections to make Colorado Springs an attractive place to live … and make downtown grow and prosper.”
Roberts’ job is to pull all the pieces together and look at transportation as a whole — pedestrians, roadways, bikes and buses.
“It’s important to not just focus on one [mode],” he said.
Within the next five to 10 years, however, Roberts sees bikes lanes and paths linking to the city’s trail system, which currently does not get a lot of people to their destinations, and integration of transit and pedestrian connections.
The 2040 Regional Transit Plan, adopted in 2015, is being updated and its scope extended until 2045, said John Liosatos, transportation director of the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments.
The original plan looked at a wider area inclusive of the communities around Colorado Springs, analyzed the then-current transit system and recommended improvements to offer more transportation choices.
Serving businesses will be a key focus of the updated plan.
“From a business and economic development standpoint, transportation is important, and all of the modes are important to get employees to work and to get products delivered,” Liosatos said. “We’re trying to optimize our dollars by coordinating and cooperating within the region to get the biggest bang for our buck.”
“A strong bus system is the foundation of our transit system,” said Craig Blewitt, director of Mountain Metropolitan Transit, which has its own master plan.
As the city grows and the system expands, “we will be looking at the first and last mile of the transit trip,” he said. “Maybe you’re a mile away from your stop. Can we partner with Uber and Lyft to cover the first and last mile?”
Mountain Metro is working hard to provide quality, reliable service that will attract new passengers. Providing information on smartphones and computers is key to that. Riders currently can access information through Google Maps, including real-time bus arrivals, schedule changes and the ability to do bus travel planning.
“There’s a lot of technology available now, and a heck of a lot more coming down the road,” Blewitt said.
Mountain Metro will be acquiring three electric battery buses within the next couple of years. They will be financed in part through Colorado’s share of a settlement in a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suit against Volkswagen.
The suit alleged that Volkswagen knowingly incorporated computer software in its vehicles that indicated lower amounts of pollutants on emissions tests than the vehicles actually produced. Part of the $25 billion settlement to which Volkswagen agreed is being split among U.S. states for clean transportation programs.
Of that settlement, the state will get $18 million to replace diesel buses with alternative fuel buses. Blewitt said the money will pay for the difference in cost between electric and diesel buses plus 10 percent. Current plans call for deploying Mountain Metro’s buses on Route 3, from downtown to Manitou Springs; Routes 10 and 11, the Nevada Avenue corridor to Pikes Peak Community College; and Route 1, from downtown to South Academy and Hancock boulevards.
Autonomous buses also are on the horizon.
“Currently we’re not fully trusting buses without an operator on board,” Blewitt said.
But RTD Denver has already launched its first autonomous shuttle as a pilot project near Denver International Airport, where it is viewed as a potential solution to the first-and-last mile problem.
Blewitt said Mountain Metro has applied to CDOT for another driverless bus, which could operate in Garden of the Gods Park.
Smart roadway technology will be installed on West Colorado Avenue within the next year as part of the Westside Avenue Action Plan, Blewitt said.
“We will see it at the intersection of West Colorado and Ridge Road,” he said, adding a designated bus lane at the intersection will allow buses to keep moving. “Once the light turns green, the bus gets to go first.”
As Mountain Metro updates its longterm transit plan, “business representatives will be at the table,” Blewitt said. “A key role of public transportation is connecting people to jobs. … We will grow as the community grows, and our reach will get greater.”