Great Streets Academy Boulevard: The Multi-Way Boulevard as an Option

Last Wednesday, I attended a brainstorming session for the Academy Boulevard corridor.  The title of the study by CH2M Hill is “Great Streets”, the following is a link to the Study’s official website:  Great Streets. CH2MHill was hired by the City of Colorado Springs a little under a year ago to study Academy Boulevard in order to bring back vitality to the current death spiral common of suburban retail corridors.

The multi-way boulevard allows for arterial-like speeds in the middle of the right-of-way, yet a context-sensitive design approach along the edge, enabling urban building frontage.

I want to take this opportunity to provide my input for this study.  My suggestion to the group many months ago was to look into a multi-way boulevard approach.  First let me attempt to explain the mechanics of a multi-way boulevard with the image to the right.

The multi-way boulevard cross-section accomplishes both rapid speed automobile and rapid transit traffic in the central four lanes of the cross-section.  It accommodates local traffic with greater access at the outer lanes or local street cross-section.  Traffic in the center lanes accommodates traffic at higher speeds (between 30 and 45 mph) with minimal points of conflict.  From the central lanes, access is granted to and from the local traffic lanes each block, yet the central lanes operate in a way that left turns on to and off of the center lanes may only happen every three to six blocks.  This way speeds are maintained in the center lanes and full access is granted for right turns.  The local street cross-section, which includes one travel lane and parallel parking, operates at much slower speeds.  The cross-section width of 17.5-feet slows traffic with not only the enclosure, but also the introduction of on-street parking, street trees and the building frontages.  The bicycle is welcomed on the street sharing the lanes with the automobile where speeds would range from a minimum of 10 mph and a maximum of 25 mph.  When utilizing a separate lane for slower traffic and on-street parking, the average cyclist feels much more comfortable riding with the automobile and not requiring an additional lane.

Goal: Create a multi-modal street corridor

The following information is from the Great Streets Academy Boulevard website:

  • Great Streets are representative of their places.  A Great Street reflects the neighborhood through which it passes and has a scale and design appropriate to the character of the abutting properties and land uses.
  • Great Streets allow people to walk comfortably and safely.  The pedestrian environment on, along and near the street is well-designed and well-furnished. 
  • Great Streets provide mobility.  Great Streets strike an appropriate balance among the three elements of modern mobility:  through travel, local circulation and access. 
  • Great Streets facilitate place-making.  Great Streets incorporate within them places that are memorable and interesting.  These may include plazas, pocket parks, attractive intersections and corners, or simply wide sidewalks fostering an active street life.
  • Great Streets are green.  Great Streets provide an attractive and refreshing environment by working with natural systems.  They incorporate environmentally sensitive design standards and green development techniques.

The multi-way boulevard accomplishes the multi-modal street goal with the separation of faster traffic typical on an arterial from local traffic, conducive to bicycle riding, transit stops, on-street parking and generally slower movement.  In order for a street to become a multi-modal street, it should provide separated lanes for bicycle traffic and transit stops, or it should provide a street cross-section where speeds are reduced for the safety and comfort of both these activities.  In the scenario of the multi-way boulevard, the street cross-section is slower and more pedestrian friendly which allows the cyclists and transit to share the local street with the automobile.  In a lot of instances, seven-feet may be dedicated to a bicycle lane while an additional ten feet is dedicated for transit.

Goal:  Create a mixed-use corridor that encourages walkability

Walkability is a planner term defined by Wikipedia as “a measure of how friendly an area is to walking”.  Today’s Academy Boulevard corridor, along with most other suburban environments, is designed for automobile mobility, with little regard to the pedestrian or cyclist.  The high speeds, low connectivity, buildings set back behind acres of parking lots and general suburban environment discourage pedestrian mobility.  These factors discourage building frontage and walkability.  If Academy were to allow for a local street context, traffic speed would be decreased and enable buildings along the street with 2nd and 3rd story office/residential possibilities.  On-street parking can and should also be utilized to encourage building frontage along the more context-sensitive streets.  A design solution, such as a multi-way boulevard, paired with a form-based code is encouraged to complement, accommodate and enhance the existing population of 60,000 residents along Academy Boulevard.

Plan view of a typical multi-way boulevard.

Goal: Maintain and enhance current access while maintaining the flow of traffic.

The multi-way boulevard maintains through speeds and enhances access with differentiated lanes for traffic.  The “through lanes”, or the center four lanes, operate in a similar manner as principle arterials.  The primary difference is the opportunity to travel in slower lanes in the adjacent context-sensitive lanes.  These lanes may be used by a patron of a business, a resident and/or a lost, wandering tourist new to Colorado Springs.  The “local lanes” provide a slower interface to the building frontage, greater opportunity for transit stops, bicycle traffic, on-street parking and generally a greater pedestrian experience.

I am pleased with the work from the CH2M Hill team and the City of Colorado Springs at this point in the process.  As an urban designer, resident, Urban Renewal Authority Board Member and advocate for quality urbanism, I intend to remain hands-on in the process.  I believe that the proximity of Academy Boulevard and its vast potential are crucial to the vitality of business in Colorado Springs and the logical step to bring back business to the City of Colorado Springs.  Contrary to what some believe, I don’t believe that work that is to be done on Academy Boulevard will or should be thought of as a replacement for downtown business. In fact, I believe that the potential for Academy will only strengthen the vitality and health of our City’s core.  I also do not believe that Academy should be considered a thoroughfare for expedient travel; it provided this for quite some time and is now facing the consequences of the rapid suburban development.

Related Posts: A Closer Look at Multiway Boulevards for Colorado Springs; AIA Colorado South Livable Communities Workshop/Charrette

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