Cascade Avenue would shrink to one lane in each direction for 20 blocks from downtown north past Penrose Hospital under a Colorado College master plan amendment to be considered today by the City Planning Commission.
The proposed redesign includes construction of traffic circles - or roundabouts - at Boulder, Dale, San Rafael and Fontanero streets. The plan has received preliminary approval by the city planning staff, pending testing with temporary barricades and paint sometime in the next few months. The City Council would also have to approve the project.
The planning staff's tentative approval is a change of position from a previous analysis that criticized the idea as disruptive to traffic.
No price tag was put on the proposed work, and city planners could not say Wednesday how it would be funded.
The Old North End Neighborhood Association and the Downtown Partnership support the idea, but many neighbors oppose it, citing fears it would inundate Nevada Avenue, Weber Street and Wahsatch Avenue with the 12,000 or so cars a day that now use Cascade.
The Historic Preservation Board also opposes the changes, saying the roundabouts pose "adverse effect to the historic medians" along the avenue.
The college's plan no longer calls for closing Cache La Poudre Street on the south side of campus, although that street would be changed to be more friendly to pedestrians and bicycles with wider sidewalks, benches and public art around the school's new Cornerstone Arts Center.
The wide-ranging plan envisions construction of an office/residential/retail complex along Tejon Street, north of Dale Street, a $25 million health, sports and fitness facility, parking structures and other changes to CC's 90-acre campus.
The Historic Preservation Board criticized some proposals because they involve demolition of historic structures and lack specific details and drawings of the planned facilities.
Others say the school still needs to better address parking issues.
But the Cascade redesign is by far the most controversial part of the plan. The college wants it for two reasons: safety and aesthetics.
"Over the years, there have been numerous vehicle/pedestrian accidents on Cascade Avenue in spite of marked crosswalks and approriate caution signage," the college says in its plan.
The plan says Cascade's new design would "herald to motorists that they are entering and traversing a special place." Ryan Tefertiller, city planner who reviewed the plan, said any changes to Cascade would be subject to testing by city traffic engineers and further public review before a final decision is made.
"We will temporarily reduce the lanes and find out if it actually does improve traffic safety," he said.
Two other city planners have publicly opposed the idea, suggesting the school install a pedestrian overpass to protect students from traffic on Cascade, using walls and fences to direct foot traffic to the bridge. Another suggestion called for the school to bury part of Cascade through campus, creating an "at-grade" pedestrian bridge.
Dave Munger, president of the Old North End Neighborhood Association, said his group unanimously endorsed the traffic plan.
"I believe we will not see any significant adverse impact on Nevada or any other street," Munger said. "These changes won't impede traffic. It will not tie up traffic. We would love to do the same thing for Nevada. Change the street architecture with bump-outs and raised pedestrian crosswalks and other things."
And, Munger added, nothing is permanent.
"If we try it and we find we've made a horrible mistake, this can be undone," he said. "It's mostly a matter of paint."
Unanswered questions about the fate of historic buildings and the design of proposed new structures led the Historic Preservation Board to write two letters in opposition to the plan.
The board questioned the fate of the B.C. Allen House on the southeast corner of Uintah and Cascade, calling it a "landmark building, important in the early history of the city." It had similar concerns for a cluster of buildings north of the Tutt Library, along Weber and Tejon.
"Proposed redevelopment along Weber Street may present a serious threat to the character of the Weber Wahsatch Historic District," said Susanne Barr, board chairwoman, in a letter to the city.
"Without being able to visualize the architecture that will result when the master plan is implemented, we are left to guess."