Popular attraction set to reopen in 2021
~ by Gabriel Paulson ~
Improvements can now be made to the property owned by The Manitou And Pikes Peak Railroad, better known as the Cog, at 515 Ruxton Ave.,
Plans to revamp the Cog got the preliminary green light following approval of the Cog’s conditional-use permit by the Manitou Springs Planning Commission earlier in February. The unanimous vote came after three hours of discussion and public testimony regarding the project.
The property includes the depot, the parking lots, maintenance buildings and work buildings. The train runs through land that is almost exclusively owned by the city of Colorado Springs and the United States Department of Agriculture under the National Forest Service. The Cog also owns the trailhead for the Manitou Incline in partnership with the city of Colorado Springs and the National Forest Service.
Decision-making will involve traffic for the Incline as well as parking that will be addressed under the Manitou Springs Transportation Mobility and Master Plan, which was recently approved by the Manitou Springs City Council.
The feasibility study for the approved area, known as the Ruxton Avenue Feasibility Study, will also provide information and a list of priorities that could affect what the Cog does with its property in Manitou.
Management of the Cog has been critical of the Transportation Mobility and Master Plan. The final version was the one presented, discussed and approved by the Manitou Springs City Council earlier in February, as well as an updated version of the Ruxton Avenue Feasibility Study.
No shortage of conditions
As part of the approval from the Planning Commission, various conditions must be met by the Cog. These conditions are: The Cog must submit a minor subdivision application for all of its operations south of Ruxton Avenue; apply for a major change of appearance certification to comply with the city’s design and historic district regulations; submit a minor development plan; work with the city to create a transportation plan that will include a bus stop or transit hub at or near the Cog’s current location; establish the hours of operation as 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; provide easements as needed within the framework of the minor development plan; show the zoning changes and related information concerning the Cog’s recent purchase of land from Colorado Springs Utilities and indicate areas designated as employee-only parking.
As part of the overall project for improvements at the Cog Railroad the plan needs to take into consideration the Transportation and Mobility Plan, which was received by the Manitou Springs City Council earlier in February. The plan includes details on several areas of concern, such as transit, parking. walking, rolling, biking, micromobility, streets and communications.
The overall key to reducing traffic under the plan, especially the areas near the Cog Railroad and the Manitou Incline is effective mass transit. Overall, the plan would include more buses running more often with flexible hours depending on demand, such as special events, smaller buses for routes that need them and transit hubs. Currently, there is a shuttle bus that goes from Hiawatha Gardens to the Incline running every 15 minutes.
Developing a transit hub near the Cog Railroad station is part of the conditional-use permit approved by the Planning Commission. Under this proposal, the hub is seen as a “high-quality public realm.” The hub would include a plaza, park areas, courtyards and landscaped seating areas. There is currently a bench near the drop-off point for people accessing the Incline. The hub should also be accessible from the street and transit system.
The location of the hubs has been a major component of the plan from the beginning and includes the future development of the Hiawatha Gardens property and as part of the site plan for the Cog Railway.
Another hub location that would help filter visitors to the Cog and the Incline being considered is Higginbotham Flats, located at the top of the hill across from the entrance to Cave of the Winds Mountain Park on Highway 24. The plan also includes more and improved bus stops along the route, convenient connections to other regional systems, such as the shuttle bus to the casinos in Cripple Creek and Mountain Metropolitan Transit System, also known as the Metro, and incentives for riders, such as coupons from local merchants.
Parking has long been an issue in Manitou Springs, especially as the popularity of the Manitou Incline and the Intemann Trail increases.
Parking problems taking center stage
As part of the Transportation and Mobility Plan, several issues are being addressed such as signage and phone apps that communicate the location of available parking in real time, effective parking enforcement, a mobility hub in the urban renewal area and also, according to the plan, “pricing parking dynamically and appropriately throughout the city.”
Another goal is to make Manitou walkable by making it more accessible for those in wheelchairs and with strollers, as well as making the community safe for pedestrians by improving intersections and crosswalks, creating shade-giving tree canopies, adding shared-use paths, improving public staircases and converting some public right-of-way areas to plazas and small parks.
As part of the Ruxton Avenue Functionality Plan, the majority of the focus is on the projected mobility hub in the vicinity of the Cog, which is projected to open in the spring of 2021. The railroad is expanding the depot to make room for an open-air destination for arriving train customers, which is not actually considered as the “hub,” according to officials.
According to officials with the Cog, on a normal day, there is a lack of as many as 120 parking spaces, as well as around 450 people getting off the bus at the existing stop who are unwilling to hike up the hill to the depot.
By adding to the shortage of parking spaces, 35 parking areas currently designated as employee spaces will be eliminated to make room for the proposed transportation hub closer to the depot. Officials say 25 parking spaces are worth $1 million to the Cog. Officials are willing to cooperate to help address the issue under the conditional use permit.
The use of technology will allow riders to know where available parking spaces are and to make online reservations for parking in the Cog lot.
The peak ridership for the Cog, according to officials, was 306,000 in 2016. Parking and transportation are based on an estimate of 350,000 per year.