The City recently developed a Midtown Plan for the area between Prospect and Fairway Lane (where the Southern Transit Center is located) along College Avenue (and about a block to either side of it). There’s a lot of content there (It’s a 139 page document.), but my goal today is only to give a brief overview of what the plan covers. I’ll look at what it says for transportation in general for Midtown, and I’ll take a quick glance at just a couple of projects that have been completed recently.
The Midtown Plan
The goal of the Mid-Town Plan is to help guide future development to be more urban in terms of density and feel, to be more transit oriented, and to become a vibrant economic and social corridor for the city. The plan provides a vision for what the area could look like and gives several concrete examples of things that can be done to achieve that vision.
Originally developed during the height of the automobile era, Midtown is luxuriously expansive with a broad central boulevard (College Avenue is six lanes wide), sprawling parking lots, and strip mall styled shopping centers. Very little thought was given to pedestrians or bicyclists, and transit was somewhat of an after thought. This expansive setting contains such a low density of residential and office occupancy, in fact, that in its current state, it cannot effectively support a public transit system like MAX.
The overarching vision of the Midtown plan is to take advantage of these expansive spaces by encouraging infill development that will bring added density. In some cases, this may mean placing buildings in what is now unused parking space, and there may not necessarily be a requirement for new parking if enough available parking still remains. Any new parking spaces that are added will likely be in the form of a parking structure, rather than in a sprawling lot. New buildings will be placed along the street, rather than being set back behind parking lots. (This is already being done with the new mall redevelopment that’s currently in progress.) And the entire area will be far more pedestrian, transit, and bicycle friendly than it is currently.
Transportation Goals for Midtown
Despite the fact that the Midtown Plan focuses primarily on the north-south route of College Avenue, the planners were aware that movement through this area was just as important as movement along it. So improving and even adding connections that safely and comfortably allow pedestrians and bicyclists to cross not only College, but also the train tracks, were referenced. The overpass between the Mason Trail and Whole Foods was one planned improvement that has already been implemented. The underpass between the Mason Trail and Troutman Parkway is another.
Improvements along College Avenue itself vary depending on the section of College and the current pattern of development in each area. In general, frontage roads will eventually be transformed into bike and pedestrian ways with continuing one-way access for motorists. The street side of large parking lots could be remade to include multi-use paths. And where sidewalks currently butt up directly against the street, sidewalks will be shifted away from the street and a tree lined buffer will be added.
Intersections are also recognized as important areas for improvement. The plan states that, “Bicycle and pedestrian facilities should be clearly marked and carried not only up to the intersection, but through it.” A list of possible improvements that can be made is also given:
Concepts being explored that provide safer intersections for pedestrians and bicyclists include elements such as signage, pavement markings, medians, signal detection, green paint and potentially innovative features such as “bike boxes” or two-stage turn boxes.
A brief summary of the planned transportation improvements can be found in the Midtown in Motion – College Avenue Transportation Study Executive Summary.
Included in the Midtown Plan was a brief mention of bike share programs. I didn’t realize this had been addressed at all and was both surprised and pleased to see this.
Fort Collins was among 43 communities in 27 states awarded free technical assistance by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to explore the possibility of establishing or expanding a local Bike Share program. Bike Share is a service where bicycles are readily available for shared use, usually in multiple, popular locations around a city. … One of the proposed next steps was to establish a Bike Share task force to continue planning the next phase of Bike Share in Fort Collins. Midtown could greatly benefit from a local Bike Share program, and this effort should be supported.
I’m unclear on where the City stands on a bike share program at this point. It would go a long way towards making MAX a more useful system and could substantially reduce the number of cyclists who are turned away from using the MAX Rapid Transit line because the onboard bike racks are already full.
Follow Through So Far
The Midtown Plan was developed in 2012-13 with the Midtown in Motion plan following in 2014. Since the city council has approved the plan, the MAX Rapid Transit system has been finished, as have much of the redesign and improvements made along the Mason bike trail. The Foothills Mall redevelopment is (sorta) nearing completion. And quite a few changes have been made to The Square (the mini-mall where Trader Joe’s and Sierra Trading Post are now located).
Because some of these developments went through the City before the plans had been adopted, they don’t comply entirely with the current plans. For example, the folks that redeveloped parts of The Square chose not to install compliant sidewalks because they didn’t have to. The developers at the Foothills Mall, however, are putting in compliant sidewalks, despite the fact that they don’t have to either. So props to the Foothills Mall developers for that.
As I read through the plan, I was reminded how different things sometimes look between the original designs and the reality. The image shown above for the intersection of Troutman Parkway and Mason Street (near Target) caught my eye for it’s well delineated, buffered bike lanes and especially for the directional paint laid down right through the intersection.
This section of street was restriped a few months back, so I thought I’d pop over to Google Earth to compare the drawing to the reality.
Where the drawing held 25 parking spaces near the MAX Troutman station, there ended up being only twelve. Where bike lanes were clearly delineated in the plan, there ended up being lanes that stopped and started without any direction given as to where the lane would restart again. And no green paint was used at conflict zones as had been detailed in the Midtown Plan. So while the improvements that were made are a huge compared to what was there before, they don’t line up completely with what was shown in the Plan. These things happen, and it’s something we should be aware of. If there’s something that’s in the plan that we think is particularly important, then if it doesn’t appear in the final project, we need to speak up.
I come away from my initial cursory review of the plan (I only made it to page 50.) with two thoughts. The first is that there’s a “now” and a “not yet” that is sometimes frustrating when we look at plans like this. There’s what we have now, which is improving, but it’s not there yet. That leads to conflicts, especially as we buzz along new pathways such as the Mason Trail and the new bike lanes on Troutman, only to get trapped at the intersection of College and Troutman where the bike lane is to the right of the traffic lane — a perfect set up for a “right hook” (where a motorist turns right while the bicyclist to the right is going straight). The Midtown Plan is just that — a plan. Some of it will be improved by the city over time, but a great deal of it relies upon new development, redevelopment, and compliance from developers as they build. That means we really have no idea when all of this will be in place. But we are seeing positive effects already. And we can be hopeful that by the time our preschooler is an adult, their experience bicycling through the Midtown Corridor will be significantly improved over what we experience today.
My second thought is that citizen input shouldn’t end with the finalizing of a plan. There was extensive input received by the city from residents as they drew up the Midtown Plan, but we need to continue to be involved as the corridor changes over time. Developers need to get positive feedback from us when they add amenities that improve our pedestrian and bicycling experience past their projects. The City needs to get feedback, both good and bad, on how well changes are working and what tweaks could be made to make improvements even better. If you have feedback on a specific piece of infrastructure — either something that needs to be fixed or something that you’re appreciative of — submit a report through Access Fort Collins.