A Jan. 22 article in The Herald, featuring an artist’s rendering of a proposed pedestrian bridge across the Animas River and over 32nd Street, prompted a flood of emails to Durango City Council members. One email in particular captured, for me, the frustration many residents are feeling. The text consisted of a single word, “WHY?”
The bridge, with the purpose of connecting two parts of the Animas River Trail (one section ending just south of 32nd Street on the east side of the river and the other continuing north from 32nd Street on the west side), isn’t a new idea. Seamless connectivity is core to the original concept of the entire Animas River Trail (aka ART), dating back to the 1970s.
Although most trail construction has occurred since 1999, the overarching vision of the Animas River Trail as “the spine of the community, seamlessly connecting Durango from end to end, north to south,” has been a constant – inspiring decades of massive community support and dedicated planning by both city and Parks and Rec staff.
The recent rendering, widely viewed with distaste, to put it mildly, raised new questions about whether the proposed connecting bridge is the best use – or even a reasonable use – of taxpayer dollars. Why, when money is tight and many residents feel trail users can safely cross 32nd Street at grade, is seamless connectivity necessary?
In answering that question, I think we also need to ask why the trail is so popular with walkers, joggers, cyclists, wheelchair-dependent residents, rollerbladers and parents shepherding toddlers and pushing baby strollers. Why are more and more Durangoans commuting to work and school on ART in environmentally and physiologically healthy ways? Why is ART one of the best-loved amenities in our community?
I believe that seamless connectivity is a big part of the answer.
In a recent, statistically valid survey, 93% of respondents indicated that someone in their household had used ART during the past 12 months. Some 79% of respondents were in favor of extending ART north to Oxbow. Expanding trail connectivity in general was the top priority identified by residents.
The suggestion that seamless connectivity is no longer relevant because 32nd is not a busy street is, in my opinion, shortsighted. The city’s engineering department, in fact, identifies 32nd, with 10,742 vehicles a day, as the second-busiest street in Durango, after College Drive, and slightly ahead of Florida Road (Main Avenue and Camino del Rio are CDOT roadways.)
And traffic on 32nd Street will undoubtedly increase, due to projected population growth, redevelopment of North Main Avenue, and increasing activity at the 29th and 33rd streets river put-ins.
Is the bridge the best answer to seamless connectivity?
City staff suggests that the prematurely released rendering is not a good representation of the actual design – a design that is the culmination of countless hours of community processes, including abundant citizen input, spanning almost a decade, before I or any of your other current council members took office.
Council’s involvement so far has mainly consisted of deciding during budgeting to appropriate money to continue the process of examining the design for 32nd Street connectivity. The next step will be upcoming city staff presentations that will allow both council and the public to hear more detailed information about the proposed bridge and to view new and more representative renderings.
I am hopeful residents will attend at least one of the upcoming meetings. Let’s see and hear what city staff is actually proposing. Scheduled meetings include:
Feb. 18, City Council meeting, 6:30 p.m., City HallFeb. 26, Multimodal Advisory Board meeting, 4 p.m., City HallFeb. 27, community meeting, 5 p.m., Rec CenterAdditionally, I hope residents will consider the merits of seamless connectivity, by whatever means we ultimately achieve it, as an issue in its own right. I believe it would be a mistake to summarily abandon that long-held goal now, when we have come so far and experienced already so many of the concept’s benefits.
I will be at all three meetings, with an open mind, eager to observe and listen. Please participate in the coming discussions. The process also allows for discussions about possible alternatives that may or may not have been considered in the past.
These meetings are sure to be lively, and your contributions are invaluable. I am confident that, together, we will find the best way to achieve our common goals.
Melissa Youssef is mayor of Durango, a position rotating among members of City Council. Reach her at Melissa.Youssef@DurangoGov.org.