Crossing North Main Avenue can be treacherous for cyclists and pedestrians, but change could be coming in the next few years to help make the corridor safer and more vibrant.
City staff members and hired consultants are assessing the avenue from 14th Street to Animas View Drive to find new ways for bikes, buses, cars and pedestrians to share the road and, possibly, encourage more new businesses to move into the area.
North Main Avenue resident Linnea Barnett said the change could help make her daily walks across the street less stressful.
“I do cross it regularly with my dog, and we run,” she said.
The closest traffic light is a block and a half away from her home in the opposite direction from her usual destinations, so she doesn’t use it, she said.
Any new plan for traffic will have to balance the needs of drivers with all others because North Main Avenue also is U.S. Highway 550 – one of the busiest highways on the Western Slope – said Phillip Supino, a Durango city planner.
Slowing traffic and creating a sense of place also could be a boost for business.
“When you can walk from place to place, and it looks good and feels good, and it functions well, it equals shoppers,” said Tim Walsworth, executive director of the Business Improvement District.
The owner of Zia Taqueria, Tim Turner, also sees room for improvement.
“It’s not an inviting place to walk. Highway 550 is busy. Traffic moves quickly and with great volume,” he said.
A buffer between pedestrians and the traffic, such as landscaping, can help make pedestrians feel safer and could be part of the plan, said Amber Blake, the city’s director of transportation and sustainability.
A more inviting atmosphere on the street also could encourage businesses to build more pedestrian-oriented storefronts instead of street-facing parking lots, she said.
Right now, the corridor caters to cars. That’s how many towns developed after World War II.
“If you looked at the commercial corridors in America, you would be hard-pressed to distinguish what community they were in,” said Greg Hoch, the city’s director of community development. “They all look alike – gas stations, large signs, large curb guts, lack of sidewalks often, large parking lots, fast food restaurants.”
Both the city and consultants will be inviting residents to help develop the comprehensive plan for the area in the coming months.
The first step is the mobility plan that will be finished by mid-July.
The Sonoran Institute is paying for Alta Planning + Design to do a mobility analysis and design new options for the area based on public comment. Those public meetings likely will be scheduled for May, Blake said.
Because it is a federal highway, the Colorado Department of Transportation also will be involved.
The department already is planning to replace the traffic lights at both the 22nd and 32nd street intersections in the next few years, said Mike McVaugh, CDOT traffic and safety engineer.
While better traffic and pedestrian flow can encourage business revitalization, for large-scale redevelopment to happen, business owners and the city may need to work together.
If redevelopment was going to happen organically through solely private interests, it likely would have happened already, Walsworth said.
The city has tried to encourage redevelopment by rezoning the area so that mixed-used developments, which include commercial and residential spaces, don’t have to go through a special zoning process. However, that hasn’t generated a wave of interest.
“We don’t see a lot of developers pounding down the door to come in and take advantage of the new regulations that we have,” Supino said.
Right now, city planners are compiling data on the businesses and other land uses along North Main to create a character analysis. So far, they found the area has 120 individual parcels, and the median lot size is about 10,500 square feet.
It is likely that in order for more new projects to be profitable, developers might have to buy multiple lots, planners said.
Once the city planners finish their internal research, city staff will start an exploratory mission to capture the public’s vision, Hoch said.
Setting the street apart from any other city can start small – with flowers, street furniture and unique signs. These same steps helped set apart downtown Durango decades ago, Hoch said.
The entire visioning process could end with corridor design standards or branding projects and a plan to leverage public financing, but it all would be guided by public comment.
The planners hope to finish the planning process in a year to 18 months.