Durango promotes ‘15-minute city’ plan

Multimodal idea to encourage alternatives to private automobiles

Life in the Big Apple is so frenzied that things can happen instantaneously, in a New York minute.

Laid-back Durango is more like a 15-minute town, but officials think the pace is appropriate for a city that wants to reduce auto traffic and encourage a healthy lifestyle.

A multimodal plan sets a goal for residents to be able to make a 15-minute or less walk to a public transportation stop from anywhere in the city. By increasing the connectivity between the networks of sidewalks, bicycle trails and transit stops, the city wants to make it easier for residents to leave the car in the garage.

A test of the plan will be whether middle-school children will become independent of their family minivans and get around town by themselves, officials said.

Hank Searfus, 16, a sophomore at Durango High School and youth representative to the city’s Multimodal Advisory Board, supported the plan Tuesday at a City Council study session.

“I feel like the youth are definitely on board with alternative forms of transportation because most of them don’t drive to begin with,” he said. “Almost everyone I know is very supportive of the transit system in Durango. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t used the Trolley. It’s a great thing because it’s free at the high school.”

Amber Blake, the city’s multi-modal administrator, anticipates that there will be some uneasiness among those unsure of bus times and intimidated at the prospect of riding a bicycle on a busy street. She wants education outreach efforts to include brown-bag lunches at workplaces as well as city staff members and volunteers working one-on-one with people to show them the best bicycle routes to work.

Many aspects of the multimodal plan should become apparent as residents go about town.

Motorists could see “sharrows” or painted arrows on the pavement encouraging them to share the road with cyclists. Sidewalks will get ramps to make them accessible to wheelchairs.

A “HAWK,” an acronym for a high-intensity automated crosswalk signal, would be perched at the intersection of East Third Avenue and 32nd Street to improve access to the Animas River Trail for pedestrians and bicyclists alike.

There is not a total cost estimate, but engineers have estimated costs for some of the plan’s priority street-improvement projects, such as $250,485 for 32nd Street, $1 million for county roads 251 and 250, $113,214 for Ninth Street improvements and $260,337 for 15th Street and East Second Avenue.

The city also is seeking $6 million for improvements to the downtown Transit Center to make it more of an intermodal facility so commuters can park and ride to work. The city would like to provide more than 400 parking spaces as well as heated and covered storage areas for bicycles. A pedestrian bridge also would link the Transit Center to the other side of Camino del Rio.

Officials realize that the plans are lofty, but the projects are meant to be built in phases and would piggyback or be combined with regular street-maintenance programs. The city would take advantage of state and federal grant opportunities.

Blake, the city’s multi-modal coordinator, said the plan might take 20 to 25 years to fully implement. It already has been three years in the making since the city began soliciting input through public hearings beginning in 2009.

City Councilor Paul Broderick likened the project to the Animas River Trail, which just became contiguous this month after 36 years of planning and construction.

“It’s a long-term vision. As we go along, we’ll be getting a piece here and there,” Broderick said.

Councilor Dick White appreciated how the plan makes priority lists based on safety, traffic and existing infrastructure so it’s “not just having a wish list” but provides a thoughtful way to “pick off projects as funding becomes available.”

The plan will come back to the City Council for official approval this summer.

More information about the plan can be found at getarounddurango.com

jhaug@durangoherald.com

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