Opinion: The question is, how will we grow?

News  /  Opinion

Nancy Henjum

by Nancy Henjum 

On Jan. 21, a few hundred people, mostly from the city’s central neighborhoods, crowded into the gym at Stratton School to speak with city officials about a potential east-west mobility study that is one of 175 projects in the current draft of ConnectCOS, “the first citywide multimodal transportation planning effort in two decades.”

Over a hundred people had to be turned away at the door. Why such interest? 

Colorado Springs is growing. The question is, how will we grow? Will we be responsible, preserving quality of life and being good stewards of our natural resources? Will we engage in thoughtful, comprehensive planning, or will our growth be chaotic and driven by narrow short-term interests? These questions were the backdrop to the specific question on the minds of many town hall attendees: What will happen to my neighborhood if Constitution Avenue is extended?

Director of Public Works Travis Easton and ConnectCOS project manager Tim Roberts explained that the proposed study’s purpose is “to determine if fundamental changes need to be made to Fillmore [Street], or Constitution [Avenue], or to leave the current configuration in place with the knowledge that traffic will likely increase through the corridor.” ConnectCOS states that “the study will also allow identification of safeguards (to potentially include noise walls, accessibility, no connections to existing roadways, impacts to the trail system and open spaces, etc.).”

This is what I heard: Most people that showed up were skeptical, and strongly opposed to the study, believing it to be the first step of an inevitable extension of Constitution from Paseo Road to I-25 that would wreck the peace and quiet of their neighborhoods and diminish property values. 

Some argued that an extension wouldn’t reduce congestion for long, citing “induced demand,” which is like that line from the movie Field of Dreams: “Build it and they will come.” Congestion may decrease temporarily — and a Constitution extension might reduce the traffic that now shortcuts through the neighborhoods to the north and east of Downtown. But eventually traffic levels would rise again, and we’ll be back to where we started, with the irrevocable transformation of neighborhoods near the extension. 

As I said at the town hall, some residents are furious, and some are more curious. Some advocated for non-car solutions: improved paths, greenways, expanded public transportation, including light rail, as well as other approaches, such as incentivizing businesses and commuters to travel at different times, spreading rush hour more evenly throughout the day. 

Typically, people who attend such meetings want to register opposition. District 5 extends all the way to Powers Boulevard. Some showed up or wrote to express support of the study. I hear the concerns of those who express if no study is done at all we may miss discovering feasible solutions that have nothing to do with extending roadways.

All that said, given the overwhelming opposition, I am not inclined to support the study as it is currently envisioned. Citizens are ultimately in charge in a democracy, and the purpose of calling a town hall is for city officials to listen and learn. That’s what I’m doing. 

I am just one member of City Council. If the study stays in ConnectCOS, I will argue that any resulting findings come back to City Council for a vote after an additional robust public process. 

Growing responsibly and maintaining vibrant neighborhoods is not an easy task. Getting the balance right isn’t easy, and well-intentioned people can disagree about solutions. 

I invite you to engage in this process. The ConnectCOS website — coloradosprings.gov/project/connectcos — is your one-stop shop for learning more and for providing input.  

Colorado Springs City Councilor Nancy Henjum represents District 5. 

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