Chance to Comment on CDOT’s Guide to Transportation Planning and Programming Public Involvement

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I wanted to pass along a chance to comment on CDOT’s Guide to Transportation Planning and Programming Public Involvement Process.  The following is from CDOT’s website.  I would encourage you to review and submit your comments to Aaron Willis.

http://www.coloradodot.info/programs/statewide-planning/public-involvement.html

Public Involvement

Overview of the Statewide Public Involvement Process

Public participation is a critical element in developing the Regional and Statewide transportation plans. Public participation provides an opportunity for citizens to gain a fundamental understanding of the regional and statewide transportation planning process and participate in long-range transportation plan development.

If you are interested in participating in public involvement activities or having your name added to our mailing list, please e-mail Aaron Willis at aaron.willis@state.co.us and provide us your name, e-mail address and mailing address. Or contact Aaron via phone at: 303-512-4019.

Additional ongoing efforts include STAC meetings and STIP Amendments. Please click on the links to find information regarding these efforts.


Guide to the Transportation Planning and Programming Public Involvement Process

CDOT- Division of Transportation Development has recently developed a Guide to the Transportation Planning and Programming Public Involvement Process. This document is now available for public review and comment period. This document provides overarching public involvement guidance and satisfies the federal requirement that the Department provide a process for public involvement in the development of the long-range statewide transportation plan and the STIP in accordance with §450.210 (2) Code of Federal Regulations.

Please review and provide comments on this documented process. This document is located at the link provided below and a hard copy can be mailed upon request. Comments can be made during the 45-day public comment period using the online comment submission form, e-mail, or mail. All comments are due by June 5, 2013. Please direct any comments or questions to Aaron Willis.

Access the Guide to the Transportation Planning and Programming Public Involvement Process by clicking here.

Fear, Facts and Frustration

Grand Avenue Bridge April 5, 2013

Grand Avenue Bridge April 5, 2013

Have you ever had this happen to you?  You are sound asleep in the middle of the night and something wakes you up . . . and then the good ‘ol brain kicks into gear.  At two or three in the morning it is rarely the rational, logical brain, but more often the fearful brain that takes normally mundane issues and turns them into insurmountable obstacles.  When that happens, these problems rarely resolve by tossing and turning and agonizing over worst case scenarios.  I simply lose sleep with no sensible solution to any of my perceived hurdles and what is worse, my tossing and turning affects my husband and things snowball creating not only a miserable night but a lousy day for two people due to lack of sleep.

For me, a better solution is to quietly get out of bed, sometimes make a pot of coffee and try to engage my coherent brain and tackle the issues.  For me this process starts with identifying and naming the real problems.  Next comes some brainstorming about potential solutions, both purely reasonable and totally off-the-wall. What usually follows is research.  I need to understand the problem before moving forward with a decision.  Sometimes this process is short. Often middle-of-the-night-issues become non-issues when my rational brain kicks in.

Fear

Attending last Thursday’s City Council meeting was a little like waking up in the middle of the night with a million thoughts and fears running rampant.  Currently we seem to be a town paralyzed by fear.  This is not a new occurrence.  This is part of Glenwood’s history. We want to do it right . . . or perfectly . . . or not at all.  Usually we end up with “not at all.”

Some concerns voiced at last Thursday’s meeting  are absolutely prudent,  some are irrational or over stated in my opinion and some have been addressed and resolved but just keep sneaking back in.   Do not misunderstand.  I am not advocating rushing headlong into decisions without proper consideration, understanding, thought and due diligence.  But it is time to name and identify the fears and deal with them.

Some of the fears, concerns and questions broached at the City Council meeting – or since –  include:

  • Traffic will be doubled and tripled if a new bridge is built without a bypass
  • Traffic speed will be increased throughout Grand Avenue turning it into another I-70 corridor
  • The proposed bridge will be an L.A. style off-ramp
  • The bridge does not fit with the history and surroundings of Glenwood
  • The town cannot survive without a bridge for two months
  • The NEPA process has been circumvented by CDOT
  • Many local businesses will close and be replaced by marijuana shops and tattoo parlors
  • Tourism will decline
  • Oil and gas trucks will speed down Grand Avenue
  • City Council is disregarding work by prior councils
  • There is no comprehensive plan for transportation
  • Grand Avenue is doomed to be a mass transit corridor
  • Has CDOT segmented this project by separating the bridge project from the ACP and from a potential bypass?
  • Is this something that can or should be decided by a vote of citizens?
  • Exactly what powers does CDOT have and what triggers them
  • Delays in the ACP could cause additional cost to the city to update traffic studies and restart the public process
  • Could the “police powers” that CDOT states they have make the IGA null and void
  • Who has control over the traffic light sequences throughout Grand Avenue?
  • No one will use an “Underground tunnel” for pedestrians in the middle of Grand between 7th and 8th
  • CDOT is going to do whatever it wants no matter what Glenwood does

Identify the problem

So what is at the heart of this alarm?  It is time to name them.

  • Pedestrian/bicycle safety
  • Economic impact on merchants and businesses
  • Environmental impact
  • Financial ramifications to the entire city
  • Safety concerns about the bridge
  • Preservation of the history of Glenwood Springs
  • Glenwood’s image and branding
  • Volume of traffic
  • Loss of local control

The subjects named above, and there may be more, are all absolutely legitimate issues and Glenwood’s citizens are right to be concerned and to ask questions and look for reasonable answers.   However, in looking for these answers some fact cannot be pushed aside.

Facts

  • The State of Colorado, through Colorado Department of Transportation controls SH 82 from I-70 through Glenwood Springs, over Independence Pass to the juncture with Highway 24 between Leadville and Buena Vista
  • Access to SH 82 (including all of Grand Avenue) is currently governed by the Colorado Access Code http://www.coloradodot.info/business/permits/accesspermits/references/601_1_accesscode_march2002_.pdf/view
  • The Grand Avenue Bridge project scope and need is limited to the south side of Colorado River (downtown Glenwood Springs) and the connection to I-70 on the north.
  • Under the NEPA process, if the agency is uncertain whether significant impacts are expected, an EA (Environmental Assessment) is prepared to determine if there are significant environmental effects.  The findings of the EA may lead to an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) .  http://ceq.hss.doe.gov/nepa/Citizens_Guide_Dec07.pdf
  • City Council has requested that intersections at 8th, 9th, 10th & 11th remain full movement and signalized under the draft ACP
  • Neither the bridge or the ACP process is over
  • The City of Glenwood Springs has a Comprehensive Plan that includes transportation.  http://www.cogs.us/departments/community/Forms/GlenwoodSpringsCompPlan2011.pdf

Frustration

I am frustrated on many different levels, which is why writing this week has been so difficult and I will cover in more depth in a later post.  But perhaps what frustrates me most right now is that there is a pervasive perception that there is no community support for either a new bridge or the ACP. It is true that those opposed have been vocal, but in my conversations with people around town, there are many who feel that a new bridge would or could have a positive impact – depending on design.  Many also feel that a Access Control Plan would give the city some say in access along Grand Avenue which is better than none.  Why are they not writing letters to the editor or showing up to meetings?   I wish I knew.  Perhaps there is not the fervor that those against have.   Perhaps they feel that their voice is represented by many on City Council.  Perhaps they are intimidated by the process. Perhaps it is simply easier to be against something than for it.  There have been some positive suggestions made by several citizens, including Sumner Schachter, Steve Smith and others.  Those will also be explored in a later post . . . as this one has run on too long . . .

My thoughts and prayers go out to all who have suffered tragic losses this week.  Remembering those in Boston, MA; West, TX and now at MIT.

 

Why we don’t get economic development . . .

Since I am feeling a bit under the weather and have not been able to finish my latest rumination, I wanted to share something I read recently on another blog.   Interesting.

http://wiseeconomy.com/why-we-dont-get-economic-development-we-dont-really-want-it/

Small Town Character vs Economic Growth . . .

Noemi Kosmowski Painting a utility box by City Hall

Noemi Kosmowski Painting a utility box by City Hall

Engaging in a short email exchange with a colleague, Mark Iodice, recently, I was challenged whether it is possible to maintain “small town character” while having “positive economic growth.” Mark is a comparatively recent transplant to Glenwood Springs, but jumping into community involvement with both feet – which is absolutely wonderful. I can see a future leader in our midst. At any rate, I have been pondering this subject for a few days and decided to make it the subject of a blog.

First of all is the ever enigmatic definition of “small town character”. As I mentioned in a prior blog post “What is Small Town Character” a dictionary definition is elusive, but examples are clearer. However, I will start by referencing what has been called a must read for planning professionals – of which I am not. In his book Rural by Design: Maintaining Small Town Character Randall Arendt lists distinguishing features of a “traditional small town” including compactness, medium density, downtown “centers”, commercial premises, civic open space, pedestrian friendly and auto accessible, streets scaled for typical use and incremental growth outward. He also described a “sense of community” where a diverse population exists and people feel an attachment to their neighborhoods. Arendt references a book titled The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg that touts the value of gathering places like coffee shops, bars, and post office that offer a “third place” – somewhere besides work or home – to socialize and meet and talk with your neighbors. This “third place” is often missing in suburbia or larger cities.

So how does Glenwood meet the criteria of a small town as described above? We have a compact form with some civic open space and a quaint downtown center. We strive to be walkable yet co-exist with vehicles – not always successfully. We have several great “third places” including The Bluebird Café and Sacred Grounds, Doc Holliday’s, The Springs, Glenwood Canyon Brewing Company and of course the Hot Springs Pool, the Community Center and Two Rivers Park where there is music in the summer. But I think the key is the “sense of community.” Judging by the recent meetings over the Grand Avenue Bridge and Access Control Plan, people definitely have an attachment to our town and their neighborhoods.

Glenwood Springs has also received numerous “Small Town” accolades. Some of the more recent ones include being named by Smithsonian.com as one of the Top 20 Small Towns to visit in 2013. From their website, this is a description of their criteria:

“What makes a small town big on culture? For the second year running, we sought a statistical answer to this question by asking the geographic information company Esri to search its databases for small towns and cities—this time, with populations of less than 15,000—that have exceptional concentrations of museums, art galleries, orchestras, theaters, historic sites and other cultural blessings.

“Happily, the top towns also boast heartwarming settings where the air is a little fresher, the grass greener, the pace gentler than in metropolitan America. Generally, they’re devoted to preserving their historic centers, encouraging talent and supporting careful economic growth. There’s usually an institution of higher learning, too.

“Most important are the people, unpretentious people with small-town values and high cultural expectations—not a bad recipe for society at large.”

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/The-20-Best-Small-Towns-to-Visit-in-2013-196855051.html

Budgettravel.com counted Glenwood as one of the 10 “America’s Coolest Small Towns 2013” http://www.budgettravel.com/contest/americas-coolest-small-towns-2013,14/#candidate-detail12125

In 2011, Rand McNally and USA Today named Glenwood Springs as the “Most Fun Small Town in America.”

I’d say Glenwood Springs fits the bill as a “small town” and a very cool and unique one at that!

Now, on to Mark’s email. I was going to pull quotes and paraphrase but though it might be best in its entirety – so here it is:
“I don’t think the goal of maintaining a small town goal correlates with positive economic growth. In order to have substantial economic growth, you need to have an increase in capital (e.g., people, buildings, money, jobs).

“In my mind, there are many types of commercial development. The best type of community development is allowing businesses to do what they want with their land and money because it yields a higher return in capital. More capital means more tax revenue, so we can then rebuild our infrastructure, like Midland Avenue, provide health services for children or invest in our schools.

“Everything is interconnected in a small economy. For example, more car dealerships necessitates more workers, more workers necessitates more housing, more housing necessitates more construction workers, more construction workers necessitates more food service businesses, and so forth.

“In short, positive growth for one business results in positive growth for everyone.

“So if you restrict or regulate one business or land development, in actuality you’re restricting and regulating the entire local economy—which in turns results in a decrease in capital.

“However, not everyone thinks this type of commercial development is positive for good reasons (e.g., social problems, environmental pollution, and a higher burden on governmental services).

“It comes down to what the community wants for the future of Glenwood Springs.”

I don’t disagree with the premise of Mark’s thinking. It is the basis for a market-driven system. However, I am not sure he has made the argument that economic growth is not possible in the environment of a small town. I so love arguing with attorneys . . . so here are my thoughts about why it is possible and perhaps even more probable that in other environs.

Something was said at a meeting I attended last week, and my apologies because I cannot remember which meeting or who said it (Jim Charlier – was it you?) . . . but it was something to the effect that the best economic development is grown from within the community. If you have an authentic place that people want to “be” to live, work and play – then it will attract and hold the kind of people with entrepreneurial leadership that will promote and encourage economic growth and diversity. Glenwood Springs looks to be one of those places where that synergy can take place.

Glenwood is sought after because of its small town nature, beautiful vistas and recreational opportunities. But what we also have is an educated and able workforce, fantastic infrastructure, superior location along highway and rail corridors, and a cooperative attitude to economic diversity and growth. It is because we are a small town we can make things happen. We get together in our “third places” or in Town Hall meetings, or work sessions and work out our differences because we have that sense of community and of ownership and place. As Smithsonian pointed out we are “devoted to preserving (our) historic centers, encouraging talent and supporting careful economic growth.”

Yes, many people would like to keep Glenwood Springs exactly the same as when they first came, or as it was when they grew up here. There is nothing wrong with them feeling that way. It is an easy comfortable feeling – like an old pair of favorite jeans, or comfy shoes. But like those jeans or shoes, sometimes things need to change or be replaced. Sometimes you simply outgrow them. Sometimes change is simply inevitable.

The question then remains, are change and growth intrinsically bad or negative? To many people the answer is yes. For many of us that are getting older, change simply is happening too fast. I heard that many times at the Town Hall meeting the other night. People asked to slow things down, or take things one at a time. Unfortunately, in the real world, that is not always possible. But, no, change is not a dreadful thing. We have a few great examples of recent positive change. We have a new, much needed parking structure in the downtown area to support tourism and our downtown merchants and businesses. We are in the process of completion of a new library – an innovative partnership between Colorado Mountain College, the City of Glenwood Springs and the Garfield County Library. We have a world class whitewater park. We have relocated our sewer system from the confluence area, opening up many opportunities for that area. Were these projects without naysayers? Absolutely not. But in the long run, they were approved and will unlock even more potential for Glenwood Springs.

We are stronger, better able to adapt and grow economically because we are a small town. We have a sense of who we are. We also know what we need and will work tirelessly to meet those needs. Whether we are a town of 9,614 as we were in the 2010 census, or a town of 15,000 or a town of 25,000, if we maintain a sense of community and place, respect the significance of our history, continue a spirit of cooperation, and retain our small-town values, we will retain our small town character, and embrace economic growth and diversity. We are the small town that CAN!

Seeking Understanding

Tuesday evening’s Town Hall meeting played to a packed house. While the initial intention was to be a forum for discussion on the Grand Avenue Bridge, it morphed, my guess – probably due to the feedback from the Focus Groups – to include the Access Control Plan and the Bypass/Alternate route. Hosted by The Chamber Resort Association and the Downtown Development Authority and moderated by Clark Anderson with the Sonoran Institute, panelists included Jim Charlier of Charlier Associates, Inc.; Joe Elsen, CDOT Program Engineer; John Haines, Garfield County citizen and property owner; and Dan Roussin CDOT Region 3 Permit Unit Manager.

I am certain that the Glenwood Post Independent will cover all of the basics and major points – and I may throw in my two cents on several of them later, but I want to focus on two issues that seemed to be somewhat of a recurrent theme throughout the evening. One is that of citizen involvement and participation and the other is information about the process of transportation planning which is new territory to me as well.

I commend the Citizens to Save Grand Avenue for caring enough to form a fairly cohesive grass-roots group comprised of interested parties that are residents and business owners of Glenwood Springs as well as some residents and interested parties that live outside of the city limits. They have been able to present their message in perhaps a more concise style than some of the rest of us have succeeded in doing. Sometimes real change begins with groups such as this.

To be truly effective, however involves more than rhetoric and appearing at public meetings reiterating the same oration to roughly the same group of people. So how do you effect change and make your voice heard? In Steven Covey’s book, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, habit five is “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” The prayer of St. Francis has a similar phrase, “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek …to be understood, as to understand.” The fact is that in order to achieve change we must understand the system and be able to work within that system. We may not like or trust state governmental agencies but in order to make changes and get the desired result, we must understand and play by their rules. We may not like the bureaucracy imposed by working with a municipality, but it is a process that is in place for a reason – at least most of the time.

I need to throw in a bit of a disclaimer here. I am not a fan of big government; less is more as far as I am personally concerned. However, I understand that in order to try to make a difference, I must learn about and seek to understand the procedures and protocol used by whatever entity I am dealing with. This drives me to more involvement with these groups, which actually furthers my knowledge. It ends up being rather circular. The more I understand the more involved I become and the more trust develops. I understand that many people have neither the time nor inclination to do this. It is simply not their cup of tea. Nevertheless, as citizens, it behooves us to have a basic understanding of how government works.

So, to that end, I would like to suggest at least some reading material to understand the basic processes. The first is a handbook prepared by the State of Oregon entitled, When Main Street is a Highway. This material has been recommended by several people and it is a very good reference. http://www.oregon.gov/lcd/tgm/docs/mainstreet.pdf

Another is a booklet done through Project for Public Spaces, Inc. titled How to Engage Your Transportation Authority.
http://www.pps.org/pdf/bookstore/How_to_Engage_Your_Transportation_Agency_AARP.pdf

For those with an interest in Dan Burden’s perspective, his work is all over the internet, at Project for Public Spaces and his own organization, Walkable and Livable Communities Institute: www.walklive.org

I would encourage you to take a look at “CDOT’s 2035 Statewide Transportation Plan”: http://www.coloradodot.info/programs/statewide-planning/documents/2035-plan-technical-reports/2035%20State%20Highway%20Technical%20Report.pdf

And CDOT’s Grand Avenue Bridge site: http://www.coloradodot.info/projects/sh82grandavenuebridge

Information on the Access Control Plan can be found here: http://www.cogs.us/transpo/ACP/

And to understand the City of Glenwood, check out the “Corridor Optimization Plan”: http://www.ci.glenwood-springs.co.us/departments/publicworks/Engineering/10-12-14%20Final%20SH%2082%20COP.pdf

And the ”City of Glenwood Spring Long Range Transportation Plan 2003-2030”:
http://www.ci.glenwood-springs.co.us/departments/publicworks/Engineering/10-12-14%20Final%20SH%2082%20COP.pdf

And of course, there is the City of Glenwood Springs Comprehensive Plan: http://cogs.us/departments/community/Forms/GlenwoodSpringsCompPlan2011.pdf

I realize this is more reading than many are willing or able to do, but, as I am learning, transportation planning is a very complex issue. Last night I also heard several people say that they did not think they have received answers to questions they have posed. I would suggest a couple strategies. One is to make sure you are asking the people who can give you the answer. I have had great results asking questions directly to CDOT representatives, to City Staff and to City Council representatives. Don’t rely on your neighbor’s interpretation of what they read in the newspaper or on some blog. Go directly to the source. Keep in mind that these are really busy folks, so please allow a reasonable time for a response – and keep your requests respectful. If you still do not feel that you have an answer, please let me know. As a member of the City’s Transportation commission and the Planning Commission, I am committed to trying to understand the needs of the community and working within the system to achieve them.

Finally, regarding citizen involvement, I will say again what I said at the Town Hall meeting;

    Many City Boards and Commissions go begging for people to serve.

It is both a great way to learn and to serve your community. If the time commitment is just too great, consider attending a meeting of a board or commission that interests you.

At last night’s meeting, Pam Szedelyi stated that citizens are not allowed to speak at these meetings. Although I knew that was not the case for the Planning Commission, I must admit, I was not sure of the protocol for the other boards and commissions. I have since confirmed that the Transportation Commission also allows citizen questions and comments during their regular meetings. I would be the first to agree with Pam that a true dialog is not always easy in these meetings. There are a couple of reasons this might be true. Commissions like the Planning Commission are quasi-judicial in nature and must adhere to a more regulated procedure. Other boards and commission meet in the morning or sometimes in the evening. Since these are volunteer boards, the citizens that serve on them often have jobs or family obligations that require a limited meeting time.

Everyone is always welcome to attend city board and commission meetings. Here is a link to the dates and times of each board/commission. http://cogs.us/boards/2010_MeetingDates.pdf

However, I can only speak to the protocol for addressing the Planning Commission and the Transportation Commission.

For the Planning Commission: Comments are taken near the beginning of every regular meeting from people who wish to comment on an item not on the agenda. No need to sign up – just show up. Due to the length of the agenda, we may limit the length of time you can speak, but honestly, that rarely happens. We also take public comments during the Public Hearings for any item the Commission is considering. A caveat for the Planning Commission: Commissioners may not talk with you (either by telephone, by email or in person) about an item that is coming to them for a decision or recommendation to Council. To do this could cause a commissioner to be forced to recuse themselves from that item. If in doubt, please give Community Development a call – 384-6411. For the work sessions, simply come and talk to us – but double check with staff at the above number since we do not always have a work session. Agendas and minutes are posted on the web site http://cogs.us/boards/PandZ/agenda_minutes_2013.htm

For the Transportation Commission: This commission always has a very full agenda so it is recommended that, if you would like to come to ask questions or talk to the commission about a specific topic , call or email Rosa Silver at 970-384-6437 or rosa.silver@cogs.us and request some time on the agenda. If there are several people that would like to talk to the commission about a specific topic, then it may be possible to schedule an additional meeting to accommodate this need. As I mentioned before, due to the limited meeting time and length of agenda, you may only have 3 to 5 minutes to speak during a regular meeting. However, just because there is not a great deal of time for dialog – as in an extended exchange of ideas – it does not mean these volunteer board members are not listening or considering what is being presented. Any questions, if not able to be immediately answered, will be followed up on by a staff and/or commission member.

In talking with city staff and at least one council member, we are going to try to work on some additional ways that may make it easier for the dialog that the public wants and deserves with elected officials and the appointed boards and commissions. The more we truly seek to communicate, the more we will understand.