Manitou Council Confronted by Parking and Transportation Decisions

Gabriel Paulson

The Manitou Springs City Council was recently updated on the status of the Transportation and Mobility Master Plan, a key component of its effort to address an issue that has taken center stage.

This plan is a collaboration between Manitou Springs, Colorado Springs and Oklahoma Publishing Company, the parent company of the Broadmoor Hotel and the Cog Railway.

As the Cog railway  reopens after being closed for two years after a feasibility study and remodeling project that upgraded the popular attraction, transportation has been at the forefront of discussions for several months.

The study is organized by tiers based on dates and time required for completion of the various components of the plan. Tier 1 is expected to be completed within the next two years and is the easiest component to implement.

One highlight of Tier 1 includes the recent purchase by the Cog Railroad of 128 parking spaces outside the city limits of Manitou Springs designed to shuttle passengers to and from the railroad to alleviate the traffic congestion through town and to keep visitors from blocking residential access along Ruxton Avenue.

Other highlights of Tier 1 are increased parking fees through town and the addition of parking kiosks along the west side of town in an area that was originally available as free parking areas; improved crosswalks and pedestrian signs; mobility hubs at Hiawatha Gardens, the Cog and elsewhere; modifications of existing shuttle services; a real-time signage system to provide parking availability information at existing parking lots through town; improved access to various side streets from parking lots; and the introduction of rear-diagonal parking on both Manitou Avenue and El Paso Boulevard.

Many of the improvements have taken place already. As in the past, the first 30 minutes of parking remains free along all streets in designated areas.

By introducing rear-diagonal parking spaces, there will be an increase of 70 spaces, and will provide for safer and less disruptive traffic flow throughout town, according to Deputy City Administrator Roy Chaney. One component of the plan is the recent changes to the Incline usage, a system, which allows for free reservations and access to parking areas as part of the reservation system.

“This could become a model for any future parking lots we decide to add in Manitou Springs,” Chaney said.

Tier 1 also includes a plan for a parking system in the city that will help make parking management self-supporting. The Finance Department is working on the details for this proposal.

Chaney said the plan assumes there will be a significant increase in population within El Paso County, resulting in increases in visitation and traffic in Manitou Springs. The main goal of the Transportation and Mobility Master Plan has always been to reduce present and future traffic congestion in the downtown area.

Debating a City Parking Structure

One item of discussion as part of the plan has been construction of a parking structure somewhere within the city limits, but there has been very little community support for the proposal to date. One probable location is at the Hiawatha Gardens property, which is now under the guidelines of the Manitou Arts, Culture and Heritage Initiative. If approved, a parking garage could cost between $10 million and $20 million.

Council members would prefer that any parking structure should be built by Colorado Springs, with access to manitou via a shuttle service as a solution to the congestion, as growth, especially in downtown Colorado Springs has been spurred in part by stadiums and other infrastructure projects. The council is in favor with negotiating the issue with Colorado Springs in the near future.

The largest benefit of Tier 1 is the real-time dissemination of parking availability to help relieve traffic, because information can be provided online and along Highway 24 indicating where and how many spaces are available. This, combined with an online reservation parking system, will decrease traffic through town, as many people will cruise while looking for a parking space, or will block traffic while awaiting a space to become available. Chaney added that the cruising for a space is a major contributor to congestion through town, especially as the Cog has reopened and the Incline has developed a reservation only system.

Council members are opposed to anything that would turn Manitou into a parking lot for tourists, which is why the parking structure has received such little support, despite the revenue that could be generated by such a project. Because of the Cog and the Incline, Manitou Springs is locked to the hip with Colorado Springs and tourism, despite the concerns of council members.

Council members are looking at ways to reduce sign congestion through town as part of the transportation plan, although new pedestrian signs, lights and portable flags are included in the project to help increase pedestrian safety.