What: Better Block “urban intervention”
Where: Pikes Peak Avenue between Nevada Avenue and Tejon Street
When: Noon Sept. 21 to noon Sept. 22
A group of young architects and planners believes a better downtown could start with one block.
With that in mind, John Olson, a landscape architect with EVstudio, and Raymond Winn, an independent planner and designer, will lead an “urban intervention.” They’ll use horse troughs to shrink Pikes Peak Avenue from four to two traffic lanes between Tejon Street and Nevada Avenue for 24 hours between noon Friday, Sept. 21 and noon Saturday, Sept. 22.
“Pikes Peak Avenue should be an important street in Colorado Springs,” Olson said.
The street lines up for a full-frontal view of America’s Mountain, and its intersection with Cascade Avenue marks the starting point for all addresses in the city.
But right now, it’s just another street. And it’s a lot wider than it needs to be, Olson said.
The wide downtown streets are a common complaint among those keen to revitalize the city’s core. But Olson contends that Pikes Peak is exceptionally wide for its traffic volume. It’s just a few blocks long through downtown, beginning at the Antlers Hilton and dead-ending into Colorado Avenue five blocks to the east. The traffic volume on that short stretch doesn’t demand two lanes in each direction, he said.
So, he figures, why not make more room for pedestrians?
“If I went to City Council and said we should close a lane of traffic in either direction on Pikes Peak, they’d laugh me out of the room,” Olson said.
Instead, he and Winn along with a group of 30 or so others will experiment with the idea.
“This gives people an opportunity to get out and experience it,” Winn said. “It’s not just a drawing. They can see how it looks and feels firsthand.”
The idea comes from the Better Block Project. People have been staging similar “urban interventions” across the country to show people what a change to city infrastructure or regulations could inspire.
Olson’s initial idea was to shrink Pikes Peak to two lanes for its entire five blocks, helping integrate the east side of Nevada with the rest of the downtown core. But he decided it would be easier and likely more impactful to focus on a single block.
The group will block off the two inside lanes of traffic to create an island where the median is now. They’ll close off the turnaround in the middle of the block, put in some park benches and bike parking.
“I envision a sculpture garden here,” he said as he walked into the turnaround.
The group will also block off parking spaces on either side of the street and expand the sidewalk space so restaurants can add extra patio seating.
The median itself could become something of a city park where people can take their lunches and eat outside at picnic tables and park benches.
The group wants the expanded median to transform Pikes Peak into a pedestrian hotspot, something senior city planner Ryan Tefertiller said fits perfectly with all the downtown visioning priorities.
“When we adopted the downtown master plan and the form-based code, the overarching principle was to make downtown more pedestrian-friendly,” Tefertiller said. “I think this idea — the pedestrian is definitely the intended benefactor.”
“I think this is a great way to test some of these concepts,” Tefertiller said.
He’s been working with the group to make sure the logistics go smoothly and the street remains safe.
“If they wanted to do this permanently,” Tefertiller said, “I think the areas they’re looking at are in the public right-of-way, so the city could do it. We would just work with the adjacent business owners.”
Joe Frodge, who manages La Baguette on the south side of the block between Nevada and Tejon, has mixed emotions about the effort.
“I’m supporting it, but I’m also a little apprehensive,” Frodge said.
The idea would add to the French bakery’s patio space, but it would also eliminate storefront parking.
“In the past, when parking is taken away, it really hurts,” he said.
The restaurant was fully staffed and ready to stay open late after the USA Pro Challenge cycling race in August. But with no parking in front of the restaurant, Frodge said it was a brutally slow night.
“I appreciate what they’re going for, that 16th Street Mall type thing,” Frodge said of Denver’s downtown.” I’m just leery.”
That’s the beauty of an experiment like this one, Olson said. Business owners can have a chance to see how the change could affect them, and the public can try it out.
“We want to co-exist with the cars,” he said. “You can’t cut cars out completely in Colorado Springs.”
But this change would shift the focus of the block from the car to the pedestrian.
“A lot of people in the city want to see downtown revitalized,” Olson said. “But few people can figure out how to make it happen. This is one little thing where a common person can make a big stamp on the city.”