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Colorado College needs a secure underpass

By: The Gazette editorial
May 7, 2013 Updated: May 7, 2013 at 8:30 am
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photo - Students walk and bicycle across the Colorado College campus near Shoves Chapel on Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2008. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)
Students walk and bicycle across the Colorado College campus near Shoves Chapel on Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2008. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett) 

Among the gems that make Colorado Springs a growing world class city is Colorado College, a prestigious liberal arts institution with strict admission and academic standards. Elite alumni include U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, former U.S. Olympic Committee president Bill Hybl, Olympic gold medalist Peggy Fleming, Microsoft executive Peter Neupert and too many others to list.

The only phenomenon that undermines near perfection at Colorado College is traffic on two major thoroughfares, Cascade and Nevada avenues.

When Colorado College began in 1874, Colorado Springs consisted of 1,500 residents and few, if any, had cars. The city has grown to nearly a half million residents, and most have cars.

Traffic will only get more intense as the city grows and prospers, meaning more cars will pass through the middle of the beautiful and historic campus.

The best solution, as we have stated, may be a wide, attractive and well-lighted pedestrian underpass. The walkway would give students, faculty and others an easy means to pass beneath Cascade without a second thought to traffic above.

As cities have grown up around colleges, the pedestrian underpass has become a common solution to maintain integrity of campus life. In Boulder, the notoriously busy Broadway street (a state highway) separates nearly 30,000 faculty, students and staff at the main campus from college-oriented shops, bars and housing on the west side of the highway. Because of the wide, safe and attractive underpass, the traffic has almost no effect on life at a campus nearly equal in beauty to Colorado College.

A 'working group ' recently released a different recommendation for resolving traffic/pedestrian conflicts at Colorado College. The group recommends narrowing Cascade and Nevada to one lane in each direction. The group also suggests exploration of more traffic signals and other 'traffic calming ' measures in and around the campus, including changes to the east on Weber Street.

While all options should remain open for consideration and scrutiny, anything short of physical separation of pedestrians from traffic will maintain most of the dangers and inconveniences associated with car/pedestrian conflicts. Opponents of the working group's proposal remind us that Cascade and Nevada are major access roads to the main campus of Penrose St. Francis Hospital system, which means narrowing the thoroughfares could slow ambulance trips when seconds count.

Tim Seibert, project manager of the Colorado College Transportation Master Plan, said the working group's proposal to narrow streets may not reduce traffic volume. He said the proposed changes would reduce danger because four-lane streets cause dangerous blind spots. Drivers on an inside lane cannot always see pedestrians who have entered a crosswalk; pedestrians cannot always see cars on the inside lane.

While resolving this conflict could somewhat enhance safety, it would fall considerably short of separating pedestrians from cars. It would not achieve the carefree atmosphere afforded by full separation of pedestrian and car.

We also question the wisdom of narrowing streets that connect downtown with growing areas of the community, including the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. It is difficult to believe that reducing four lanes to two will have no effect on volume. If that's true, why were these streets widened in the first place?

Seibert said an underpass would cost more than the working group's preferred solution. That's a key concern, but the resolution will involve a one-time investment that should serve a growing community for generations. A satisfactory result trumps a cheaper option that doesn't work.

Seibert said the biggest concern regarding an underpass involves safety. The word 'tunnel ' evokes visions of a dark corridor in which evildoers await victims. As seen in other college towns, an underpass can be attractive and well lighted. Panic levers can be installed within easy reach of any place on the walkway. Security cameras can monitor every square inch of an underpass. Built properly, an underpass would enhance safety by keeping students off dark streets and away from cars.

Seibert's process remains in the public input stage, and nothing has been decided. We encourage readers to visit Colorado College and determine for themselves the best and safest option for enhancing safety and quality of life for pedestrians and drivers on the campus.

Let's not dismiss the idea of a state-of-the-art underpass that could, once and for all, eliminate the biggest known dilemma at Colorado College.

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