Shuttle-System Coming to Garden of the Gods this Month

Monday, May 7, 2018

REPOSTED FROM OUT THERE COLORADO:

A parking lot will be constructed near the main entrance of Garden of the Gods and shuttles will begin operating from there by month’s end in what Colorado Springs officials are calling a “small-scale” approach to reducing heavy traffic in the iconic park.

“We know we won’t have all the answers right away,” Kim King, the parks department’s project lead, said in a press release Wednesday, “but because we want to increase alternative ways to experience the Garden, it’s critically important to test programs like this shuttle.”

The temporary pilot program is set to begin at the end of May and last through the start of September. Garden of the Gods is most congested during that period, according to Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, which found as many as 8,000 vehicles enter the park on the busiest days.

The Garden of the Gods Foundation paid for the consultant to study the situation last year, resulting in the recommendation for the shuttles and 400 parking spots at Rock Ledge Ranch. The lot will expand on the park-designated land beside Gateway Road, at the forefront of the postcard image seen from the visitor and nature center. Parks officials could construct the lot with gravel or mulch, King said, but paving is not being considered.

Volpe also recommended the city contemplate a fee to pay for the shuttle, possibly including a charge to ride or to park within the Garden. But no payment will be enforced this summer, as Adventures Out West, the company currently offering guided Jeep and Segway tours, will operate two 14-passenger vans.

King told The Gazette that the city would invest money in the shuttle service, but declined to say how much. She said the cost could be split 50/50 with the Garden of the Gods Foundation. Attempts to reach the foundation were unsuccessful.

The shuttles will run from the visitor center, to the parking lot, to just down Gateway Road at the Juniper Way intersection, where a trail leads to the Central Garden. King said the city has identified potential pulloffs at the end of the road so the shuttle doesn’t hold up traffic while dropping off and picking up passengers.

She said going deeper into the park, such as to Balanced Rock or High Point, would require a larger shuttle fleet to reduce waiting times. “Again, because we’re emphasizing taking an incremental approach, trying things in small steps, we’ve decided to just utilize this real small area,” she said.

The city anticipates a shuttle leaving the Rock Ledge Ranch lot approximately every 15 minutes from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. The two vans are expected to take 30 minutes to complete the three-stop loop.

Hank Scarangella, president of the Friends of the Garden of the Gods, suspects the shuttles will have little effect on traffic this summer. Assuming the vans are filled, he figured their four loops per hour might account for 16 vehicles.

“That’s 16 fewer cars in the park every hour. That’s negligible,” he said. “But that’s not the point of this pilot. The point is, let’s try something, let’s learn some lessons and see how it works, then we’ll come back maybe with a more robust system.”

Throughout the three months, the city will gather feedback via text. Counters will be installed at the parking lot, King said, adding that “it will be interesting to see” if locals take advantage of the lot, even if they’re not taking the shuttle. “Rather than people getting stuck looking for parking, looking for parking, here’s an alternative,” she said.

But during a March open house to reveal potential changes, some locals feared the lot would be an eyesore. Others wondered if dogs would be allowed on the shuttles. King said she was unsure at this point.

A 328-person survey by Volpe showed that 72 percent of visitors would be either “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to take a shuttle on their next visit, but Scarangella said the pilot program would reveal true tendencies.

“If they get there, and if they find out they’ve got to wait five minutes or 20 minutes for the next shuttle, what will they do?” he said. “That’s something we need to understand to deal with this. Will they drive in and take their chances with parking, or will they stand around and wait for the shuttle?”

Volpe’s survey also showed that the majority of visitors went to the Garden well aware of potential crowds, and that they still came out mostly pleased with their experience.

“But we know it can be better,” said Doug Price, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau. “And so I am a big supporter of what the city’s doing with this Volpe study. We can’t let this asset be overrun and have it become a turnoff as opposed to a great memory.”

Will the shuttle lend that?

“Time will tell,” he said. “That’s all I can say.”

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