CITY STAFF MAKES RALSTON ROAD RECOMMENDATIONS


June 21, 2011

by John Kiljan

A modified “Four Lane Compact” concept was selected by the City Staff and its consultant after a year-and-a-half study.

During a somewhat hurried study session on June 6th, the Arvada City Council first heard from its Traffic Engineer and design consultant on the City’s long-delayed final recommendation for widening the central Ralston Road corridor and adding safe sidewalks. The Arvada City Council was cautioned that the recommendations were expected to be controversial.

The study-session presentation ended with a simple query asking what the Council thought of the preferred concept and a request for guidance on how to proceed. The Council said they would response during an upcoming June 27th meeting.

What follows here is a short history of the corridor and the study, the final recommendations and what may be their most controversial features.

HISTORY

The Ralston Road corridor study was an outcome of the 2007 – 2009 citizens’ review of planned capital improvement projects (CIP’s) for Arvada for the next five years. The review committee called for budgeting $3 million for sidewalk replacements over two years along the corridor — extending roughly from Wadsworth Boulevard to Independence Street — citing accident rates and anecdotal stories of risks to pedestrians, RTD commuters and cyclists.

During a February 2011 general meeting of the Citizens for a Livable Ralston Community (CLRC) neighborhood association, the attendees echoed many of those same pedestrian safety concerns. Added to these were concerns about business parking and traffic in adjacent residential neighborhoods if increased commercial development and high-density housing were encouraged along the central part of the corridor. Overall, the corridor’s pending reconstruction ranked as one of the top three in the CLRC’s issues list.

Despite running past the Arvada K-8 school, some parts of this section of Ralston Road have no sidewalks at all. Others have only narrow single-file Hollywood-style sidewalks with an attached mountable curb right next to traffic.

Nevertheless, instead of immediately replacing these sidewalks, the City opted for a more comprehensive study to look at the overall roadway configuration and future economic development along the corridor. The $300,000 conceptual study, which began in late 2009, was contracted to Charlier Associates, Inc. and took over a year to complete. Preliminary engineering was not included in the conceptual design work. The original $3 million sidewalk reconstruction proposal was left in the City’s CIP budget for 2012 and 2013 but marked as “unfunded” during the study.

The need to coordinate with other development activities along the Ralston Road corridor was cited as the reason for the delay in completing the study. Those projects — the Triangle redevelopment, the Ralston Creek rechannelization, the rebuilding of the Garrison Street bridge, the removal of recreational facilities and the reconstruction of the North Jeffco Community Park, as well as the construction of a new Arvada K-8 park — are now collectively referred to as the “Ralston Road Complex”.

The study also looked for the most viable routes for a future rubber-tired shuttle and/or streetcar route along the corridor that would connect the Gold Line commuter rail stations with the businesses and recreational facilities along the corridor.

THE STUDY

The study, which began in the fall of 2009, included a number of public input meetings. Initially, six design concepts were proposed and these were narrowed down to four by the end of 2010. There was no distinction in the design concepts proposed for the central part of the corridor and the urban renewal areas at each end. All four design concepts called for allowing multi-story developments along the length of the corridor. Except for public feedback comments, summaries of those meetings are well documented on the City website link listed at the bottom of this article.

THE FINAL RECOMMENDATIONS

Emphasizing that their recommendations were “very preliminary” the presentation team went on to say that the draft final report is now complete. The Council was given a ten-page summary of that report for this study session that includes a proposed implementation schedule. Neither of these documents have yet been released to the public.

However, it appears that the modified version of the original “Four Lane Compact” concept is now the final recommendation. The enlargeable graphics for that configuration can be seen by clicking on

http://static.arvada.org/docs/1290208431Ralston_Four_Lane_Compact.bmp

Here are some of the features the modified Four Lane Compact concept includes. Note: the term ROW means “right of way.” ROW is the land the City owns on each side of the roadway — either as a gift, or as a voluntary purchase or acquired by condemnation.

* lane widths only slightly wider that what is currently on the central corridor,
* a closed-off central turn lane except at signalized intersections,
* barring all left turns except at those signalized intersections,
* a variable-width (3′ to 10′) at-grade median with tree plantings,
* roadside parallel parking alternating with tree plantings in ‘furnishing’ strips,
* 8-foot sidewalks at least 8 feet from the traffic on each side of the road,
* three and four-story (up to 45 feet) buildings next to the sidewalk,
* a minimum 18 to 30-inch building setback from the sidewalk,
* no roadway shoulders,
* no designated bicycle lanes or bike paths,
* a minimum of 28 feet of additional ROW to be bought for the corridor,
* approximately half of that ROW is to be acquired on each side of the road,
* a minimum ROW width of 86 feet at the middle of the blocks vs 58 feet now,
* additional ROW widths will be needed for turn lanes at intersection approaches,
* 6.3 acres of property takings for the new ROW,
* the purchase of approximately six existing business along the corridor,
* adaptability for a future streetcar service if warranted,
* a $13.5 million price tag that does not include a bus circulator,
* $11.2 million for construction and the remainder for ROW purchases,
* an additional $2.9 million to set up a rubber-tired bus circulator service,
* no increases in traffic projected for 57th Avenue or for Grandview.

For those who attended earlier public meetings where the original Four Lane Compact proposal was presented, the changes in the modified version seem to be relatively minor. They include widening the central median from 3 feet to somewhere between 3 feet and 10 feet, using the extra space for tree plantings between the traveled lanes. This increases the rows of trees along the corridor from two to three. This increases the amount of new ROW required from 21 feet to 28 feet.

The consultant made a number of other significant recommendations to the Council during the study session:

One of those is to modify the City code to allow bicycles to share the 8-foot sidewalks with pedestrians along the corridor,

Another was to modify the new K-8 park plans to be compatible with allowing a Carr Street extension though to 57th Avenue in the event the K-8 school were to close in the future. An extension of Garrison Street from Ralston Road to 57th Avenue is also a part of the recommendation.

Yet another recommendation is that that the signals at Holland Street be removed, and that the pedestrian crossing signal at Field Street also be removed and replaced by with a signalized intersection at Estes Street. Other signal changes may occur at Ammons Street and possibly other intersections along the corridor.

Another recommendation is to consider buying the needed land along the each side of the central part of the corridor but leaving the 8-foot furnishing strip undeveloped, i.e. without adding the parallel parking spaces and landscaping, until required by adjacent development.

The most significant recommendation appears to be to leave the reconstruction of the central part of corridor to the very last. Construction along the corridor would be carried out in three phases: the Triangle, then Olde Town and finally the central part of Ralston Road between the two urban redevelopment zones. The recommendation to delay the reconstruction of the central part of the corridor came despite the recognition by the consultant that safer sidewalks and lower accident rates along the central corridor were the primary impetus for doing the corridor study in the first place.

The current accident rate on this part of Ralston Road is 24.8 accidents per million vehicles-miles (ACC/MVM). Mostly they are due to sideswipes because of narrow lanes and turning vehicles. The Council was told that the biggest benefit in accident reduction was expected to come from eliminating the left-turn movements along the corridor. The corridor was said to have about 100 driveways accessible from its central turn lane. When the project is fully complete, the rate is expected to drop to 15.4 ACC/MVM. As a comparison, after construction, the accident rate will still be more than twice the current rate along 72nd Avenue.

But Charlier said that the benefits of this particular approach would be the experience gained in gauging public reaction to the project before making the difficult decision of taking properties along central part of the corridor to replace the sidewalks. No mention was made of the delays the unbudgeted $13 million price tag might cause the project.

Several issues were not addressed: whether projected costs include under-grounding the corridor’s power distribution lines along the road, or if they will be left hanging next to the corridor inside the sidewalk alignment as they are now. Also not addressed was whether or not bus stop pullouts will be included in the preliminary designs.

CONTROVERSY

Without being specific, the Council was cautioned that the study’s recommendations may well be controversial. Any kind of change in traffic patterns is hard on some. Here’s a short summary of the study’s recommendations that seem most likely to cause concern:

Shutting off most of the left turns along Ralston Road will have substantial safety benefits, but it will also limit easy access to residential neighborhoods and businesses along the road.

New businesses and medium and high-density housing concentrated along the corridor could adversely affect adjacent residential neighborhoods with increased traffic, parking problems and lower property values.

The relocation of existing traffic signals is always a concern to those who may see an increased traffic flow along their own residential streets because of the change.

The hoped-for minimal impact on traffic on 57th Avenue and Grandview is not certain.

The much-expanded cost of the project has the potential to delay sidewalk replacement work along the central part of the corridor for years.

The possibility of property takings — especially takings well into the future — is often a concern to small business owners and landlords who are left wondering if they should continue to invest in their own property’s maintenance and improvements.

The roadway widening itself may not be enough to be noticeable. In an effort to minimize taking adjacent property the proposal still calls for substandard lane widths and not even minimal shoulders. Commuters may wonder why so much is being spent for such a small return in increased traffic flow.

The proposed phased construction plan is uncertain, but it appears that the central part of the corridor that has the most need for safety improvements will be reconstructed last. The lack of programmed funding and waiting for urban redevelopment at each end of the corridor may delay sidewalk reconstruction for years.

Even if Carr is not extended through to 57th Avenue for decades, there will be those who will be worried about increased traffic on 57th. The planned extension of Garrison Street from Ralston to 57th raises a similar concern.

Local businesses may want to see more on-street parking to compensate for what they will lose when the City condemns the front 14 feet of their lots, but few people are likely to be an advocate of having to stop behind a car doing a standard parallel parking maneouver along Ralston Road during morning rush-hour traffic.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

The recommendations are scheduled to come before the Council again on Monday, June 27th. But previously scheduled Council presentation dates have slipped by weeks or months, and this one may as well. The Council agenda for June 27th will be posted on Arvada.org on Friday, June 24th. Council study sessions are open to the public.

Or, click on


http://arvada.org/about-arvada/ralston-road-corridor-plan/

This is the City’s Ralston Road Corridor Plan web page. It is maintained by Arvada’s City Traffic Engineer, Patricia Lorence. The page has links to a number of documents associated with the study over the past year. It has not been updated since last January, and it does not reflect the City’s recent recommendations. Also, it does not yet have all the public comments to date. Patty Lorence can be reached at plorence@arvada.org or 720-898-7740.

As a primary issue for the CLRC neighborhood association, expect to see more updates on the Ralston Road corridor study at the http://www.ralstoncommunity.org/ website in the coming months. Links to commentary and opinion pieces on the corridor proposal may also be found on the CLRC’s website from time to time.

John Kiljan, CLRC News: 303-423-9875 or jpkiljan@yahoo.com
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2 Responses to CITY STAFF MAKES RALSTON ROAD RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. John Kiljan says:

    Followup: The correct contract amount for the study was $200,000 not $300,000. The unfunded amount for the Ralston Road street and sidewalk improvements was $1,500,000 in 2012 and in 2013 with an additional $500,000 in later years for a total of $3,500,000. –JK

  2. John Kiljan says:

    Update: The Ralston Road corridor study was not included on the June 27th Arvada City Council agenda. Here is the City’s “Summary of Minutes” for the June 6th study session. They are subject to change before the Council approves them.

    “Ralston Road Corridor Study Update
    Patty Lorence, Transportation Engineer, presented this study session. She introduced Jim
    Charlier, Charlier Associates. She said they want to get feedback from City Council on the
    preferred concept so that they know what the next steps should be.”

    “Ms. Lorence talked about the vision for the plan and the members of the study team. She said
    they also have a Technical Advisory Committee and a Citizens Advisory Committee comprised
    of business owners, residents and affected parties. Ms. Lorence discussed the planning process
    which began back in November of 2009 with both the Technical and Citizens Advisory
    committees. Since then they have met with stakeholders through interviews and informal coffee
    sessions and eventually came up with the four concepts that were recommended. Out of those
    four the preferred concept is the 4 Lane Compact, which meets all of the objectives for the project
    but uses the least amount of right-of-way. Those objectives include the use of 3-4 story
    buildings, mixed land uses, preserves neighborhoods, has reduced building setbacks, enables a
    future streetcar, redeploys RTD buses, provides safer travel, enhances the grid system, has a high
    quality pedestrian environment, addresses bicycle needs, has on street parking and phased access
    management.

    “Mr. Charlier talked about the concept and the phasing of the project. Ms. Lorence said their
    recommendation is to focus on the Triangle section first, then Olde Town, and last, the
    Connecting Corridor. As far as the two north-south roads discussed in the report, Mr. Charlier
    said they are recommending that Garrison be put through, but not Carr Street because of the K-8
    school. He said they are recommending a pedestrian/bicycle connection for that section. Ms.
    Lorence said Mr. Charlier would also recommend that if in the future the land use changes so that
    the school is no longer there, he would recommend putting Carr through.

    “Mr. Charlier said the question is whether City Council wants to approve the plan at the corridor
    level or just as the capital improvement items are presented. Mr. Kocian said staff and City
    Council will have a discussion so that capital funds can be programmed for the work to be done
    in stages. Councilmember Cook said she would like to see more about the implementation
    timetable. Mr. Kocian said staff will prepare a structure that shows how it moves forward.”

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