Letter from John Burg to City

Many thanks to Chris McGovern and John Burg for allowing me to post this email sent to Chris and the letter sent to City Counci;
Kathy Trauger

Chris,

I appreciate your very thoughtful comments to Kathy Trauger regarding the proposed Access Control Plan. They are clearly based on a wealth of experience and knowledge. I commend you on your high level of professional citizenship.

FYI, following is the text of an e-mail that I sent to the Mayor and City Council members with copies to the City Manager and key department heads on February 14. I know this e-mail differs with many in its acceptance and support of the two new bridges. However, it is my personal judgement that the new bridges are going to happen, that the team working on them is very competent, and that the best tactic in this regard is to take advantage of the opportunities (and challenges) that the new bridges present. In contrast, the proposed Access Control Plan is (but need not be) a real disaster. I agree totally with your findings that the ACP should be taken very seriously as a binding legal document. The efforts by some to downplay the ACP’s importance by claiming that is “only a plan; will be implemented over time; or can be amended” are disingenuous.

Mayor and City Council Members:

The purpose of this e-mail is to provide comments to you regarding the two current Glenwood Springs CDOT projects: 1) the bridge project as presented at the January 9 open house, and 2) the Access Control Plan as presented at the February 12 open house. I write as a concerned citizen of Glenwood and as a retired City Planner. My professional career included playing the lead role in downtown planning and urban design in both Minneapolis, MN and Sarasota, FL. In Minneapolis I worked closely with the Mayor, other elected officials, and MDOT in the design of a new landmark suspension bridge (originally proposed as a routine, mundane bridge) over the Mississippi River into downtown. In Sarasota, I worked with elected officials and FDOT on measures to improve the connection between downtown Sarasota and its beautiful bayfront across US Highway 41. In both Cities we were able to develop plans that met the objectives of the Cities as well as the State Departments of Transportation. I believe it is possible to do that here with your thoughtful deliberations and leadership.

The Bridges

There is much positive to say about the bridge process and project. The process has been open and participatory. The consultant team has exhibited an open and constructive attitude. They seem very competent and eager to produce a context sensitive and exemplary final product. The proposed solution offers many opportunities including the redevelopment of 6th Street between Laurel and Grand as well as an improved pedestrian/bicycle bridge connecting downtown to North Glenwood. I was impressed with the ped/bike bridge design engineers. They were asking all the right questions: How can the bridge best integrate into the downtown on the South? On the North, how can the bridge best connect to the new 6th Street “village”, the Pool, and the regional trail system? What is the most appropriate bridge type? What are the aesthetics? I had the strong sense that they were eager to apply their design talents to create an exemplary and iconic bridge. I also sensed at the January 10 Q and A session that the project’s broader design team has a desire for excellence.

Recently, an urban design friend of mine in Chicago told me about the film “How Much Does This Building Weigh, Mr. Foster”. It’s about the architect, Norman Foster and is available via Netflix. If you haven’t seen it, I suggest you take a look. I commend it to the bridge designers and your broader Grand Avenue team as a source of inspiration. Of course, Foster’s projects are large scale and he has great resources to work with. Nevertheless, we know that great things can happen at smaller scales and with more limited resources when the will is there. The key elements, which are exemplified in Foster’s office, are context sensitivity and the joy in striving for the heights. It’s so much more satisfying than hum-drum mediocrity – and in the end it will even bring most nay sayers on board. In the interim it will require your support, as well as that of the broader design team and those of us on the periphery. I for one will do what I can to be supportive.

The Access Control Plan

I wish I had more positive comments regarding the Access Control Plan. It’s a relatively simple project. Relatively simple solutions are at hand. Yet, it contains huge flaws. The elimination or consolidation of private access points over time, of course, makes sense. I was greatly disappointed on February 12 to again see the proposed elimination of traffic signals at 8th and 10th as well as the elimination of on-street parking. As I’ve previously noted, the 8th Street intersection is the most egregious. It’s the heart of the City – the City’s 100% pedestrian intersection. Removing this signal and its negative impact on pedestrian and vehicular cross traffic would be a terrible blow to Glenwood’s downtown. I’ve been scratching my head in an effort to understand the rationale for this (with any sensitivity toward downtown) without success. The comment of a CDOT official “I thought it would be easier to cross if you took out half of the signals” at the January 10 Q and A session added to my bafflement. Perhaps I misunderstood. Perhaps there is some sort of 1950’s pre-occupation with grade-separated crossings, that has driven a focus on the under-the-bridge crossing and elimination of this signal.

Jane Jacob’s seminal book “The Death and Life of of Great American Cities” in 1961 marked a turning point in urban planning. Planning and urban design theory and practice over the past several decades has demonstrated that in downtown contexts, people like to cross at intersections in the open air. Mixed-use downtowns with grids (the smaller the block size the better) work best. They provide the most opportunity for circulation of both pedestrians and vehicles. Severing these grids is damaging. Severing the grid at the City’s heart is unfathomable. A wide array of theory and practice supports this view including “Context Sensitive Design” and “Complete Streets” among transportation professionals. I am aware that the Downtown Development Authority is in the process of hiring an urban design consultant to address many of these issues. I urge you to seriously consider their findings.

During my professional career I have always striven for win/win solutions. I think a simple win/win solution is available here: Maintain the existing traffic signals. Synchronize the signals to accommodate peak-period Grand Avenue traffic while giving more time for cross street traffic in off-peak periods. Signal timing can easily be programmed to accommodate peak and off-peak periods during time-of-day and days-of-the-week. Given the tightness of the right-of-way and the desirability of bringing the pedestrian bridge to 8th Street (for several reasons), it is probably necessary to eliminate left turns from Grand Avenue at 8th.

There is also the issue of on-street parking. As I have previously noted, in addition to the parking spaces themselves, this parking provides a comfort buffer for sidewalk pedestrians as well as a psychological signal for vehicles to move at reduced speeds. I recognize that there are no proposals to increase the speed limit on Grand, however, we also know that motorists tend to drive at the perceived safe speed regardless of the speed limit, and that on-street parking reduces their speed.

There have been occasional implications from public officials that the pubic naturally resists change, even when it may be for the better. Having been a City Planner for 40 years I understand this resistance However, one must also be cautious in thinking that change for changes sake is good, or that change is always progress. In the case of traffic signals and on-street parking on Grand Avenue, I strongly believe the proposed changes would do major damage. The good news is that doing the right thing in this case, is the most simple and the most cost effective.

Thank you all for your honorable service to the City. I believe that you are all honestly trying to do what is best for the City. I have confidence that you will give your best to this effort, and I am hopeful for the best outcome for the City.

John Burg
1604 Bennett Avenue
947-9322

2 comments on “Letter from John Burg to City

  1. David Eller says:

    Mr. Burg:

    I appreciate your taking the time to write to me, and the project teams, as well as share your comments in the public forum that is Kathy Trauger’s blog. It is beneficial for all involved that we maintain this type of constructive discussion as part of the public involvement processes for these two projects. Thank you for your insight regarding the Grand Avenue Bridge study and comments about the public involvement. I do hope you’ll be able to attend one of the two Story Poling events on March 7.

    Regarding the Access Control Plan, it does not eliminate parking on SH 82 nor create medians. What it does is provide the mechanism for the City of Glenwood to place future medians in SH 82, if they so choose. Obviously, a project of that magnitude would have to have its own public process that evaluates how parking would be replaced elsewhere, exactly what the limits of the medians would be, and more. The ACP does none of that. When thinking about the possibility of medians and removal of parking on parts of Hwy 82, it is important to remember that part of the concept of that project places a grass/landscaped strip between the highway and the adjacent sidewalk, which is a big safety improvement for pedestrians. Also, medians, if constructed, would facilitate pedestrian crossings of the highway as well.

    I appreciate that you agree that removal of the left-hand turns from SH 82 to 8th Street makes sense for a number of reasons (bridge width being the primary reason). If this is done, however, it would not be possible to maintain left turns and a through movement from 8th Street, as you state you would like. The only way to prevent left-hand turns from SH 82 is with some sort of median or barrier. It is not reasonable to expect that a sign on the signal arm stating “No Lefts” would prevent motorists from attempting to make left turns from SH 82 from a through lane. The resulting unlawful left-turn movements would cause safety and mobility problems for everyone else on SH 82. Unfortunately, this is one of those situations where a compromise is going to be needed.

    CDOT, the City and the DDA are working hard to better develop the alternatives for 8th Street. We have defined the alternatives, and will soon be presenting those alternatives at a number of meetings. The primary question is, “Will the community accept a bridge platform wide enough to accommodate left-turn lanes?” We hope to settle that question in the next two weeks. Following that, there will be a City Council workshop where we hope the final configuration is decided on.

    Again, thank you for writing and for bringing attention to some very key issues.

    Sincerely,

    David Eller, CDOT R3 Director

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