Academy Boulevard: Imagine the Possibilities!

An example of a retrofitted arterial into a multi-way boulevard in Cathedral City, CA. Image courtesy of Freedman Tung & Sasaki Urban Design.

Transportation: When considering alternatives for Academy Boulevard, transportation and its framework are key.  The existing model for Academy having 6-lanes of high-speed travel is not conducive to anything aside from moving vehicles.  At a bare minimum, Academy Boulevard should be reduced to 4 travel lanes with an increased median.  However, this is still not going to accomplish a “great street” that can invite “smart growth” practices, where walkability is the goal.  Smart Growth as defined by ULI is “growth that is economically sound, environmentally friendly, and supportive of community livability—growth that enhances our quality of life.

I envision a multi-way boulevard for Academy Boulevard, a road type that was once prevalent in cities across the world.  The multi-way boulevard has multiple purposes rather than simply moving traffic.  Along with moving traffic in the center lanes rapidly, it also presents a local street on the edge with narrow lanes and on-street parking.  The local lanes that flank the rapid lanes in the center present the potential for transit opportunities and the ability to have building frontages along them.  Rapid lanes in the center could include 4 lanes of arterial speed traffic (35-45 mph) while the exterior two parallel lanes separated by medians for local traffic accommodate traffic at speeds  of 15-25 mph.  By introducing the slower travel lanes, separated from the high speed lanes, a friendly, walkable experience is created.  Add parallel parking to the local lanes of traffic and the pedestrian experience is such that buildings actually desire to front their establishments along them and even have a patio dining area.  I know it is very difficult to imagine ever having a patio seating establishment along Academy Boulevard, but with this road typology, it is actually possible and desirable.  The Champs Elysees in Paris is a tremendous example of a fully functioning multi-way boulevard.  For an audio presentation on multi-way boulevards, follow this link:  CNU-Multi-Way_Boulevard  Another great reference to multi-way boulevards is the book by Allan Jacobs and Elizabeth McDonald appropriately titled The Boulevard Book.

Land Use:  Academy Boulevard has a high density population relative to Colorado Springs as a whole.  In fact, due to single-use zoning practices from the 60’s – 80’s where high concentrations of similar uses and utilizing high density housing as a “buffer”, the areas around Academy Boulevard have the highest densities in the city of Colorado Springs.  With present conditions of decaying commercial properties, it presents itself to the general public as a detriment and liability.  Apartments and high-density housing are associated with low socio-economic population, which is also of course associated with high crime rates.  I think of the high concentration of people as a future asset and when appropriately considered, this high amount of population creates greater opportunities for appropriately scaled and context sensitive neighborhood centers.  Additional residential incorporated into the fabric, not isolated in its own enclave, is vital along the corridor.  Added people make transit and neighborhood centers even more feasible that it already is today along Academy Boulevard.  Form-based codes should be in place along Academy regulating adjacency to the street, number of building entrances, where the entrances are, fenestration, first floor heights and other features making the building adaptable to market changes.  Form-based codes are introduced to eliminate the single-use zoning classifications that have created the failures that we experience today.  For more information on form-based codes, see the Form-Based Codes Institute link.

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