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News 5 In Depth: how planning and development impact transportation

Andy at a bus stop Medium.jpeg
Posted at 12:05 AM, Jun 10, 2024

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — It was a nice day for a walk. The sun rose early and the skies were clear. I packed my camera and microphones into their suitcase, grabbed the tripod, slung my laptop bag over my shoulders, and headed out the door.

The 1.4-mile walk from my house to the bus stop at Explorer Drive and Research Parkway takes about 30 minutes, most of it downhill.

This journey took a little longer because I stopped occasionally to pull out the camera and record myself. I missed the 8:00 a.m. pick-up.

The bus was on time an hour later and I reached my departure point on Corporate Drive near Criterion Bicycles by 9:15 a.m. From there, it was another 25-minute walk along the New Santa Fe Regional Trail over to Rockrimmon Boulevard and up Tech Center Drive to News 5.

In all, an hour and 10 minutes (not including my missed stop) for what would normally be a 15-minute drive to work.

My commute is shorter than average. Data published in 2021 by the US Census Bureau show the typical Coloradan will spend 50 minutes behind the wheel each day getting to and from work

And those 30 minutes of commuting are much more attractive than the 2 hours and 20 minutes needed to ride the bus.

In fairness to Mountain Metro, and bus systems everywhere, the suburbs are not designed for transit.

"We built these really car-dependent neighborhoods. You can’t really walk to jobs, to shops, to schools, and it really locks in car dependence,” said Matt Frommer, a Senior Transportation Associate with the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project.

We met at a bill signing ceremony to talk about how city planning and urban design impact transportation in cities. Frommer's group advocated for a package of bills addressing land use policy that state lawmakers believe will lower housing costs and improve transportation alternatives.

“It’s not really cost-effective to provide bus and train service out to neighborhoods that don’t have enough density to generate enough ridership to support those routes,” Frommer explains.

Most cities rely on zoning to make land use decisions. Detached single-family homes are an example of low-density, residential zoning. Town homes and duplexes are considered medium-density. And apartments are classified as high-density. Both are still residential zones.

Shops, restaurants, and offices are located in commercial zones while plants and factories are considered industrial zones.

Segregating land use into different zones protects property values and quality of life. It's much better to live next door to another house than to live next to a factory or sewage treatment plant. But building communities this way can also cause people to become more car-dependent as new neighborhoods are typically built farther away from the city center.

“We call it greenfield development, on agricultural land, on open space outside of the urban boundary,” Frommer said.

Greenfield development spreads out a city map. The boundaries of Colorado Springs now cover roughly 200 square miles. The boundaries for the Denver metro area cover around 700 square miles.

“It spreads us farther and farther apart, it adds to vehicle miles traveled, so people have longer commutes and they’re driving up greenhouse gas emissions," said State Rep. Stephanie Vigil. "Every time the cost of gas goes up, it’s harder on families with these long commutes.”

Vigil sponsored a bill that restricts local governments from requiring builders to create a minimum number of parking spaces for new housing developments.

There are other ways to develop. Weidner Field and the apartments next to it are examples of in-fill development where new construction occurs on previously vacant land within the established urban area. The Outlook Briargate Luxury Apartments near the Chapel Hills Mall are an example of redevelopment.

Governor Jared Polis and state lawmakers want to encourage cities to build more of both.

“We want more Coloradans to simply have the opportunity to be able to live within walking or biking distance of job, or a quick bus ride or a passenger rail,” Polis said at a ceremony where he signed the Transit Oriented Communities bill.

This new law earmarks money cities and counties receive from the Highway Users Trust Fund (HUTF) to plan and build new housing developments near transit corridors. HUTF funds come from gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees, among other sources.

“What we’re going to get as a result of this bill is a Colorado where people can work and commute within a reasonable time,” State Rep. Steven Woodrow said at the bill signing.

“We are creating landmark legislation that will, in fact, be the blueprint for the rest of the country,” co-sponsor Rep. Iman Jodeh added.

The City of Colorado Springs set ambitious goals to improve its transit system over the next 20 years. The ConnectCOS transportation master plan approved by the city council last year contains a Transit Vision Network. That plan envisions a future bus system that extends north to North Gate Boulevard and east to Falcon.

Cities should have more money to spend on their bus systems next year thanks to another new state law. It creates new fees on oil and natural gas development that are expected to generate more than $52 million for C-DOT's Clean Transit Enterprise next year. That amount is estimated to grow to more than $116 million the following year. The money is intended to expand transit routes and frequency.

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