Along with spring flowers, bump-outs will soon make their first appearance of 2021, months ahead of when they first sprouted in 2020, and they will come with some new design improvements meant to increase safety, accessibility and aesthetics.
Downtown Durango’s first appearance of the patios-in-parking-spaces that allow for alfresco dining or retail sales will pop up Monday, with additional bump-outs going up every two weeks after that.
The most obvious improvement will be the use of large concrete planters to replace the orange construction barrels used as barricades in 2020.
Tim Walsworth, executive director of the Business Improvement District, said, “They’re going to be really cool. It’s a great new feature, it provides safety for the oncoming traffic side, but it beautifies at the same time. And they will have a long life in Durango, well after all this COVID stuff is over.”
Besides the concrete planters, bump-outs for 2021 are encouraged to be built on platforms, flush with the sidewalks to aid in accessibility. If bump-outs aren’t flush with the sidewalk, they will be required to have a ramp to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Railings will also be required around the bump-outs, offering another line of defense against impacts from vehicles.
Restaurateurs said the outdoor retail spaces were key in allowing them to remain open when indoor dining was restricted by public health orders during the depth of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But on Sept. 16, 2020, safety problems with bump-outs became obvious when a drunken driver crashed into the Tequila’s bump-out, sending four people to the hospital with minor injuries.
The precautions taken for 2021 are aimed at minimizing a repeat of that incident.
The city requires a review of bump-out plans before they can go up, and Alex Rugoff, the city’s development and redevelopment specialist, said businesses should give the city about a week to review their bump-out plans.
“The sooner the better for us, it gives us more time,” Rugoff said. “We’re excited to see the program return and business making the investment. Businesses told us how important these were, and the new designs will make them more aesthetically pleasing and safer.”
Information about the city’s bump-out program, including applications for a grant that covers up to $3,000 of the cost of building a bump-out, can be found on the city’s website.
Besides the grant program, businesses can view design guidelines, get a bump-out application, a grant packet, an outdoor liquor service application and a Colorado Department of Revenue form required for modifications to a business.
Walsworth said businesses are pleased some bump-outs will be operational in time to serve spring break visitors. The first bump-outs in 2020 didn’t go up until June and most didn’t go up until July.
Some residents have suggested closing parts of Main Avenue to create a pedestrian mall.
But a host of complications – such as dealing with freight access, emergency access and getting buy-in from large segments of downtown merchants – must be overcome before BID conducts a trial run of closing a small one- or two-block section of Main Avenue to vehicular traffic – a kind of pilot run for a pedestrian mall similar to Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall.
“There’s a lot to balance when you’re thinking about closing Main to traffic,” Walsworth said. “Certainly, it would help with safety because you wouldn’t have any cars. But it brings up a bunch of other problems that we haven’t figured out how to solve at this point.”
Walsworth said BID has not determined if it will be able to overcome complications to conduct a limited pedestrian-mall pilot trial on Main for a few days sometime this year, but BID has not yet ruled out a trial run.
“We thought about trying it on weekends only. We’ve thought about trying it during the week,” Walsworth said. “It would seem weekends would probably be a little better to measure how it works and see if there’s any unintended consequences.”
If a pilot trial of a pedestrian mall does occur, it will likely be done in a slower part of the year and not at the height of tourist season, he said.
“One of the models that we’ve considered is to close several blocks to traffic, so no parking – no drive-through traffic – but the cross streets, the side, streets remain open, so you can still get some flow through downtown,” he said.
Bump-outs are also prompting a deeper look at redesigning and updating downtown.
BID has begun seeking input from businesses about helping reimagine the public spaces downtown.
A broader examination of downtown might eventually lead to an update of the Downtown Durango Vision and Strategic Plan, which was completed in 2006.
“That document has not been updated since 2006. So it’s time to update it,” Walsworth said. “And it will ask big questions of all the stakeholders in downtown about its future.”