Ruxton Avenue – A Woonerf?

November 27, 2021

In 2015, during my tenure at ALC, I was approached by the now former Mayor (2017-2019) of Manitou Springs, Ken Jaray, on behalf of the Friends of Ruxton Canyon to study Ruxton Avenue. The task of the Friends Group was to gather data about how Ruxton Avenue corridor was used by pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles – in particular as local residents and tourists accessing the uphill attractions of the Broadmoor, Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway and the Manitou Incline.

This project was exciting to me because I love data and the better optimization of the public right-of-way. So I agreed to help the Friends of Ruxton Canyon and ultimately the City of Manitou Springs. I quickly reached out to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS) for an intern, ideally someone who had ambitions for a public planning and policy profession.

The perfect intern had approached me – Jonathan Chavez (or Chavez, as I referred to him). It was Chavez’s task for the summer to physically count pedestrians and cars in a few strategic locations on Ruxton Avenue. He analyzed where people walked (sidewalk or street), why and where they would step into the street and even interviewed them. He also analyzed where people would park and if they were making loops (they were) to look for a place to park.  Chavez did his job to perfection! Our analysis continued through Labor Day of that year, and then we began to provide our suggested outcomes. The full document can be found here.

A sampling of the data from the data assembled in the Summer of 2015.

The following is a summary of the primary recommendations, I have provided italic font for the items where action has been taken by the City of Manitou Springs and/or the adjacent attractions:

  1. Encourage more tourist-focused land uses at the base of the Cog and Incline where parking exists today;
  2. Create an Urban Design Plan for the corridor, including an update to the Code that is form-based rather than use-based;
  3. Increase seasonal parking rates at the Cog and Incline destinations;
  4. Metered parking along Ruxton with first half hour free (this was provided elsewhere in Manitou Springs, but parking was prohibited without permit on Ruxton Avenue);
  5. Establish interactive signage that display when parking is unavailable;
  6. Provide a shuttle, or even a chair lift as an option, to the base of the Cog and Incline;
  7. Update the parking signs for better clarity.

To the credit of the current and past Manitou Springs Mayors and City Council, the many of the suggested action items were taken, although increasing parking rates and limiting parking on Ruxton were not the easiest politically. After what has now been seven plus years, I’d like to offer a couple more suggestions to Manitou Springs for Ruxton Avenue.

Ruxton Avenue should be redesigned as a woonerf.

A woonerf at Uptown Broadway in Boulder, Colorado.

Ruxton Avenue should be redesigned as a woonerf. You may be perplexed by that statement, thinking “what is a woonerf”? A woonerf is a street that is focused toward the pedestrian experience, while still providing access and use by the automobile. A woonerf generally does not have curbs, striping, or the automobile focused elements. They also typically has a differing pavement material than asphalt; invite and favor the pedestrian; and are most importantly slow, beautiful and romantic streets. A woonerf would accomplish the three primary goals (no particular order) of the corridor:

  1. Vehicular access for the residents of Ruxton Canyon and emergency vehicles;
  2. Access by shuttle (ideally a fixed rail trolley) for visitors to the base of the Incline and the Cog;
  3. Safe access for pedestrians and bicycles (I’m so happy that e-bikes are now an option for Manitou!) to the attractions.

The first bullet above is an obvious need and goal, but the second two have long-term economic benefits. When a visitor drives to the base of the Cog and Incline, the likelihood of that visitor spending money in Manitou Springs is not high because very few goods and services are available for purchase. Similarly, when a visitor catches a shuttle at Hiawatha Gardens, minimal options are available.

From my own experiences, there have been a few instances where I have attempted to purchase food and beverage before and after the Incline. When I have walked from Manitou Springs, I have stopped at a restaurant and spent around $10. In most instances, I have taken the bus and instead stopped at a place in Colorado Springs, on my way back home. Therefore, in the instances where I take the shuttle, there isn’t currently an economic benefit to Manitou Springs for my visit. However, that doesn’t have to be the case for Manitou Springs, there is an opportunity to capitalize on the ever-increasing popularity of the Manitou Incline.

Manitou Springs should work toward adding greater intensify of businesses around the primary parking lots, especially if a parking structure is to go in. The ground floor frontage of a parking structure (let’s say at the Hiawatha Gardens parking lot) is the perfect place for coffee shops, breweries, smoothie shops, restaurants, and other shops catering to the visitors of Manitou Springs.

Manitou Springs is such a wonderful town, filled to the brim with charm and potential! As a nearby resident (5 minutes by vehicle; 15 minutes by bike), I want to see Manitou Springs continue to thrive, while maintaining its small town charm!

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