Colorado Springs parks and advocacy group members say they have been pleased this summer with the free shuttles running to and from a new parking lot at Garden of the Gods.
“I’ve got to say, I did have some misgivings,” said Scott Hente, president of Friends of the Garden of the Gods, thinking back to when Volpe National Transportation Systems Center recommended the pilot program months ago. “But a lot of my misgivings went away that very first weekend.”
Said fellow Friends member Hank Scarangella, also an early skeptic: “It’s worked out great.”
On Memorial Day weekend, two short buses started picking people up at the visitor center and at the 400-spot lot made by mulch in the field beside Gateway Road, dropping them off at the traffic circle at the end of the short drive.
The pilot has been the city’s “first small step” toward resolving park overcrowding. “Overall, I think it’s been very successful,” said Kim King, overseeing the program with the city. “We’re not seeing the level of backups we’ve seen in the past at 30th and Gateway or at those first parking lots” in the Garden.
About 8,000 vehicles enter the park on a peak summer day, averaging to 20,000 visitors a day, Volpe reported. King said 166 shuttle riders responded to the city’s text survey, rating the experience a very positive 4.6 out of 5. She said 21 texted with having not taken the shuttle, for reasons ranging from not knowing about it to preferring to walk.
The 14-passenger buses will continue from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily through Aug. 26, King said. They’ll run again for Labor Day weekend. By the end of September, the plan is to have data collected from drivers who tallied riders and from counters placed at the lot and on the adjacent trail stretching into the Garden.
A decision on next season will be made later.
“I think we’ll look at continuing the shuttle, hopefully,” said Jan Martin, Garden of the Gods Foundation president. “The question now, with it being a free shuttle, how are we going to do that going forward?”
The 90-day cost for the two shuttles was about $108,000, King said, split between the city and the foundation’s funds through visitor center revenues.
In early talks about the pilot program, critics rose against the idea of charging to park or ride the shuttle, saying that would infringe on the historic promise that the park “be kept forever free to the public.” The no-charge encouraged ridership, Martin said, leading to lines she saw all summer at the visitor center.
“One thing I think we may consider next year is to look for sponsorship opportunities to pay for the shuttle,” she said.
While Hente recognized the shuttle’s sustainability as one of the big questions, he said he hoped none would be raised about expanding the new parking lot, what he called his “No. 1 concern.” As someone who took his dog to the previously open field, one of his early misgivings was the lot.
“There were very few days when we saw it completely full,” Martin said. “Maybe 80, 90 percent most of the time. The size seems to be just about right.”
Hente said he also previously doubted that the shuttles would be used, since they were only going to the end of Gateway Road. He saw regular passenger lines that suggested otherwise.
“It obviously proved to be more popular than I thought it would be,” he said.
Once data are compiled, King said, they will be presented to the Parks Advisory Board.
“If we were going to look at doing something on a larger scale, we would definitely open it up for more opportunity for feedback,” she said. “The park is very much the community’s park. We want to make sure they’re comfortable with what’s happening in it.”