“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
― Yogi Berra
“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”
― Warren Buffett
Fort Collins is a city that understands the value of a good plan. A well made plan gathers consensus, envisions a better future, and leverages private development in order to achieve the greatest positive benefit possible for the largest number of residents. And right now the City is working on two plans: the Downtown Plan and the Old Town Neighborhoods Plan. Because these two plans encompass the bulk of historic Fort Collins, they are being completed concurrently with their final stage taking place in February when they will go before City Council for approval.
The Downtown Plan is a 250 page document (so far… in its draft form…). It covers a far larger area than most people think of when they envision “downtown” and it comes at the topic of planning from multiple angles: urban design, transportation + parking, market + economy, arts + culture, energy + environment, and management + maintenance. The Plan also breaks the downtown area into nine different subgroups based on the character that each area has already developed over time: the Innovation Subdistrict, the Poudre River Corridor, the River Subdistrict, the Lincoln Corridor, the North Mason Subdistrict, the Civic Subdistrict, the Canyon Avenue Subdistrict, the Historic Core, and the Campus North Subdistrict.
The Old Town Neighborhoods Plan is an 89 page document and it combines the east and west side of residential Old Town. It looks at a variety of issues including character & capability, land use & transition areas, transportation & circulation, and sustainability.
Both of these documents includes transportation recommendations that I’ll quickly summarize here.
Both plans recommend improvements for pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users and motorists. Because the streets in this part of town are pretty much as wide as they’re going to get (unless imminent domain is enacted, as is happening at Remington and Prospect), most recommendations that relate to automobiles focus on parking. (More on parking later.)
Transit improvements include upgrading bus stops, coordinating connections between transit and bike or car share stations, exploring adding a downtown circulator, and increasing the frequency and duration of bus routes that travel to or through this area.
Pedestrian improvements include building missing sections of sidewalk, especially along E. Mulberry where the street is tight with four lanes of traffic, the cars are moving pretty quickly, and social trails are often over roots and around trees. The Neighborhood Plan also talks about traffic calming measures. The Downtown Plan focuses mostly on making pedestrian areas friendly, pretty, and comfortable. There are some significant improvements recommended along Canyon Avenue that would be a boon for pedestrians and bicyclists if they’re ever executed. There’s also a pedestrian bridge recommended across the river near the skate park.
There are several recommended bike route improvements through this area. The most substantial changes would take place in the neighborhoods, and it sounds like there’s a possibility that one of the most needed changes might not be included in the Plan because of concerns over how it would affect traffic on the six days of the year when CSU holds a football game in their new stadium.
Bike Wayfinding Routes and Neighborhood Greenway Routes
The most significant changes would be made along Magnolia, Mulberry, and Shields. Magnolia (between Canyon and Shields) has already been restriped to include bike lanes with buffers on both sides. Unfortunately the Downtown Plan does not include much information about how Magnolia would be made safer through the Downtown area, with the exception of some suggested improvements along Canyon. (See below.)
W. Mulberry would be right sized west of City Park Avenue. The four lane motor traffic would be reduced to three lanes (one lane traveling in each direction with a center turn lane) and bike lanes would be added. The rest of Mulberry would remain largely the same… without any bike lanes. But if the Magnolia route connects well through downtown, then it would be a helpful alternative to bicycling on Mulberry.
Shields, on the other hand, needs a lot of attention. I often see bicyclists on this skinny street where even cars are traveling in the gutter. There is no bike lane between Vine and Laurel. And the sidewalks along this stretch (for those that might consider them as an alternative place to bicycle) aren’t comfortable for pedestrians let alone cyclists. They’re incredibly skinny, immediately abutting the street, and often have branches sticking well out into the sidewalk area. There are also very few left hand turn lanes on Shields and no right hand turns lanes at all, which means that traffic can be unpredictable and dangerous for other motorists as well as pedestrians and bicyclists.
The plan had been to recommend right sizing Shields from Magnolia to Mountain or Laporte. But apparently that idea is up in the air as concerns arise over football day traffic. (That makes sense, right? Let’s leave a dangerous situation in place 365 days of the year to make sure that there’s not traffic jams for a couple of hours during 6 days of the year.)
Canyon Avenue, a diagonal street that was once part of the old stage line to the Spring Canyon station, has four intersections at which it connects up with streets that follow the compass points. Two of those intersections have had islands added that give pedestrians a more comfortable crossing and that calm Canyon drivers. And two of those intersections are situations where pedestrians and bicyclists take their lives in their hands regularly.
The Downtown Plan recommends adding an island at the Magnolia intersection to block or slow thru traffic on Canyon and a mini island at Mulberry that would provide a pedestrian safety zone. There are also bulbouts recommended at Magnolia and Mulberry that would go a long way towards improving pedestrian and bicyclist comfort.
Parking, Parking, Parking
The Transportation + Parking section of the Downtown Plan focuses pretty heavily on parking. In reading through it, you get the sense that staff would really like to come right out and recommend on-street paid parking, but they’ve been directed by City Council to hold off on that. So instead, they list all the arguments about why it would be a good idea, then list the items that City Council asked them to do before bringing such a recommendation to them.
City Council has asked for more data, despite being given a fair bit of data already and despite the fact that staff has asked to begin a pilot program that would help to acquire even more data. (I am of the opinion that City Council is afraid to make a move that might be necessary but unpopular.)
The Urban Design section of the Downtown Plan also pokes some holes into downtown building requirements that tie a certain amount of off-street parking to every new building. To learn more about that, check out my review of the Downtown Plan: Urban Design Edition.
The Old Town Neighborhoods Plan also covers the topic of parking, namely the parking permit program that is now in several of the Old Town Neighborhoods on both the east and west sides.
Read Through the Downtown Plan
Though the Old Town Neighborhoods Plan does include details that may affect your walk or ride, the Downtown Plan covers multiple areas that will affect everyone that travels through, or visits, downtown, and it’s well worth reading through. Though planning documents might not sound like exciting reading material, the Downtown Plan is full of beautiful photographs and in some places reads more like a coffee table book than government paperwork.
You can also give feedback throughout December and possibly into January as well.
Other City Plans that might be of interest:
The Transit Strategic Operating Plan (2009).
The Master Street Plan (updated in 2011).
The Transportation Master Plan (2011).
The Bicycle Master Plan (2014).
The Bicycle Wayfinding Plan (2015).
The Pedestrian Plan (2011).
The Climate Action Plan (2008 with subsequent updates) — now called the Road to 2020.
Also, note that once the Downtown and Old Town Neighborhoods Plans have been wrapped up, the City will begin working on updating the City Plan, which encompasses where we would like the entire City to be headed.