Longmont is looking at “going big” to prioritize pedestrian safety downtown.
The city council held a joint workshop with the Longmont Downtown Development Authority board on Tuesday. As the LDDA begins taking next steps to improve pedestrian safety, their biggest question was whether Longmont City Council would rather prioritize pedestrians or cars downtown, especially as the downtown corridor is seeing a rapid increase in density.
LDDA Executive Director Kimberlee McKee explained that many people are expressing their fears of walking downtown, especially when it comes to crossing Main Street, which is a segment of U.S. 287. She outlined a survey completed in 2021 of Longmont residents asking about what prevented them from visiting downtown.
“Inadequate parking is something that we have heard probably historically since the first car hit downtown, but traffic issues is not something we have heard until recently,” she said.
All council members made it clear that they wanted to make downtown a place for pedestrians first and a few ideas came up as to how to further achieve that. One theme was how much more walkable downtown felt during COVID-19, when the city was able to bring Main Street down to one lane in either direction.
“The simple answer certainly is that the more driving adverse, car adverse you are as far as moving traffic through town, the more pedestrian friendly you’re going to get,” Mayor Pro-Tem Aren Rodriquez said. “Anecdotally you saw that when we had the one lane, and it really did bring the speed down and brought more of a safe sense of walkability to downtown.”
It was agreed that bringing Main Street down to one lane would be one of the most useful pedestrian safety changes, and city council members seemed open to possibly pursuing that. However, such a move comes with a number of major obstacles.
Pursuing such a change would likely take several years, requiring lots of public input, investment in connectivity projects to make the change more practical and ultimately approval from the Colorado Department of Transportation, which has the final say on the highway serving as Longmont’s Main Street.
However, the COVID-19 experiment with the one lane road does put Longmont in a better position to approach CDOT about the change.
“If you all remember, we openly talked about this being a potential test case for us to look at what would the opportunity be,” City Manager Harold Dominguez said.
He added that in this discussion, two major projects that have been prioritized by council still need millions of dollars worth of funding and might be key to making a one-lane Main Street work. That includes the downtown transit station and Coffman Street project.
“We know we have two projects here that are foundational to everything we’re talking about,” Dominguez said. “We’re going to have to be reviewing these things from a funding perspective to really figure out where we go, and/or look at how we get increased funding.”
With direction from the council, Dominguez said city staff would begin preliminary conversations with CDOT. McKee added that, following the workshop with council, the LDDA would be speaking with stakeholder groups to get their perspectives on pedestrian safety downtown.
“I just want to reiterate that we really think of downtown as an extension of everyone’s neighborhood,” she said. “We want everyone to come here and feel welcome. These changes are going to be helpful for every resident, every business.”
There are several other short-term projects in the works to help make downtown more walkable. For example, LDDA will be launching a wayfinding project this year to help make it easier for people to find parking downtown.
City staff is currently working with CDOT to get flashing midblock crossing signs up through downtown. Council additionally asked for the timing of crosswalks at lights through downtown to be extended.