Elevators, Ramps and the Bottom Line

City Council chambers were once again overflowing a little over a week ago.  Nothing seems to bring this town out like a bridge discussion.  The agenda item wasn’t the auto bridge, but again the discussion of the pedestrian bridge and the question was ramp or elevator to get people from 7th Street to the pedestrian bridge.  In the interest of full disclosure, I want to let everyone know that I sit on two city commissions, Planning and Zoning Commission and Transportation Commission that have weighed in on this choice.  Both of these commissions voted to recommend a ramp over an elevator for a number of reasons.  Neither commission had a unanimous vote. I have also recently been asked to join the Grand Avenue Bridge Project Leadership Team.

Option A - Elevator and Stairs

Option A – Elevator and Stairs

After weighing the information given up until now, I have been a proponent of a ramp for a number of reasons. While aesthetically I like the idea of an elevator, my concerns have been with the ongoing maintenance costs, the ability of the city to adequately provide ADA compliant alternatives during system failures, questionable liability issues, safety and sanitation issues. As one member of council pointed out, maintaining an elevator outside is a bit different than those housed within a building.  I questioned whether it was fiscally responsible for the city to step into an unknown. Oregon City, Oregon has an outdoor municipal elevator that has been in existence since 1915.  Recently the city of Springfield Massachusetts has elected to replace an elevator on their Connecticut River Walk Park with a ramp due to ongoing issues with the elevator. http://www.wggb.com/2013/07/05/elevator-out-ramp-in-for-river-walk-bridge/

Option B - Short Ramp

Option B – Short Ramp

My other concerns about an elevator over a ramp came primarily from a tourism and transportation standpoint, particularly because Glenwood Springs and the downtown area in particular, are at the heart of a truly unique trail system that attracts bicyclists nationwide. Frankly, I want a system that works well for them, including those bicycles pulling trailers.

The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and many business owners, primarily those along 7th Street, but other businesses and citizens as well, came forward imploring City Council to “do the right thing” for Glenwood, for business, for those with disabilities. They indicated a ramp would inhibit the redevelopment of 7th Street and impact the view for years. Those advocating for the disabled thought the length and the grade of the ramp would be a hindrance to those who are physically challenged, particularly those in wheelchairs.

Option C - Long Ramp

Option C – Long Ramp

Leslie Bethel, Director of the DDA stated that she thought there were ways to manage the ongoing costs. Ok, now I am interested.  Currently the DDA has two revenue sources; property tax and sales tax through a TIF or Tax Increment Financing. The DDA also currently has outstanding loans to the City of Glenwood.  The 2014 City budget indicates revenues of $404,573 and expenditures of $1,471,378.  I asked Leslie what she had in mind as far as assisting the city with ongoing maintenance and she indicated the DDA will be meeting November 19th to discuss possibilities. So what are the options?

Colorado Springs has Special Improvement Maintenance Districts (SIMD).  These districts proved landscape maintenance for streetscapes, lighting, signage etc.  They also take care of snow removal in the winter month.  Pasadena California’s “Old Pasadena Management District”, is a non-profit business organization that “creatively plans, manages and develops Old Pasadena as a unique, authentic and vibrant downtown experience.”  They provide security, marketing and maintenance. The operations are financed through an annual tax assessment on privately owned commercial property.

City Council made no decision at their last meeting. They opted to continue the item and asked for some specific information including:

  • The cost of a lift versus an elevator
  • Could the city get two lifts for the price of one elevator?
  • Would a lift be large enough to carry a bicycle and a trailer?
  • Exactly what is CDOT willing/able to pay for?
  • A draft intergovernmental agreement (IGA) between CDOT and the City outlining the responsibilities for each for maintenance, repair, replacement, etc. of the pedestrian bridge, ramp and or elevator/lift.
  • The cost of ensuring that an ADA accessible van or bus would be available on very short notice
  •  What entities in the area could provide that service and would that also require an IGA?
  • What could the DDA do to help with funding of ongoing costs?
  • What additional city personnel services would be required of either a ramp, elevator or both including maintenance and security?
  • On what are the cost estimates in CDOT’s matrix based – where does the information originate and are there other comparatives?
  • Figures on operation and maintenance costs for both a ramp and an elevator/lift
  • More information on what is required of the ADA, particularly regarding routine maintenance, downtime, service requirements and response time for alternate methods should the elevator/lift be inoperable
  • Would like to see a rendering of dual lifts versus one or more elevators.

I would throw out one additional piece of information that is needed:

  • What is the city’s liability regarding elevator/lift versus a ramp?

After listening to the DDA and the business folks talk about the compelling need for an elevator and stairway combination – NOT a ramp, a few questions come to mind.  If this is truly the “will of the people” and will serve the best interests of the entire community, are the business and property owners within the DDA, GID, and/or the people of Glenwood Springs ready to step up to the plate to fund a redundant system, most likely two elevators or lifts as well as the ongoing insurance, maintenance, and safety expenses?  Is it up to the city to go above providing for the basic needs? If the DDA is already operating with a deficit, will they be able to take on additional expense necessary for operation of elevators/lifts?   Should the city consider some funding mechanism like a Transportation Utility Fee if the elevator is selected? Who will bear the burden of that expense?  Are there other solutions that have not been considered?  The bottom line is that we need to determine who pays for a great vision and doing the right thing.   What are your thoughts?