Downtown’s Next Step, a project by the city of Durango to improve the safety and experience for pedestrians strolling downtown, would expand sidewalks, decrease the length of crosswalks and generally make downtown more pedestrian-friendly.
Some business owners are smitten with the idea, but others can’t commit because they are still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic and the post-pandemic economy.
Father’s Daughters Pizza owner David Lenamond said a construction project tearing up the streets 5 feet away from his pizzeria’s front door is the last thing he needs.
“We've held this thing together with sticks, pens and paper clips,” he said.
Lenamond said he’s persevered through fires, floods, a pandemic, a labor shortage and a tumultuous national political landscape since opening Father’s Daughters Pizza in 2016. If nothing else, he just wants a breather before he has to figure out how to make his restaurant business work while Main Avenue is under construction.
He said he’s unhappy city councilors haven’t made the effort to visit his business and see for themselves what he is dealing with, and that if councilors engaged with Main Avenue business owners, they’d see how their vision for downtown is untimely.
Lenamond also said he isn’t opposed to reshaping or improving downtown, but after blow after blow, his business can’t handle any more uncertainty right now.
“We need more parking, we need more solutions. We need better access for the walking public,” he said. “There's just a whole host of things that need to be addressed. But I can't take a knife in the back right now. I (can’t have) Main Street torn up for two years.”
In September, City Council approved a funding request to finance designs of the 600 and 700 blocks of Main Avenue in 2024.
Last year, city staff expected designs to cost about $400,000. But two separate bids for designing the project were received in August for totals of $1.1 million and $1.2 million.
City Planner Savannah Lytle said at a City Council meeting the cost-effective way forward would be to design Main Avenue in phases, starting with the 600 and 700 blocks next year, and early designs could inform later designs and potentially reduce time and costs later in the process.
Lenamond said he just needs respite, and he can’t handle the stress a redesign of Main Avenue would put on his business.
However, some business owners are more confident in the Downtown’s Next Step project and are eagerly anticipating its completion.
Evan Schertz, owner of Maria’s Bookshop on the 900 block of Main Avenue, said a pedestrian-friendly downtown is long overdue.
“Expanded sidewalks. More public space. More public green space. That was really the whole impetus for this whole parklet we have in front of the store,” he said. “(It was) to provide an example of what some more public spaces downtown could look like.”
City staff noted Maria’s Bookshop’s outdoor bump-out, an outside lounge-like area populated with lush plants and pleasant places to read or rest, as an exemplary example of what downtown public space could look like in the near future.
MIG Consultant Elly Schaefer said at a September city meeting the project at its core makes Main Avenue sidewalks and crossings more pedestrian-friendly and addresses Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.
Other aspects of the engineering design process included considerations about subsurface utilities and geotechnical field work, and an inventory of downtown trees including tree age, maturity, health and species.
“You’re confined to a narrow sidewalk that’s often too busy. There’s nowhere to sit, there’s nowhere to stop,” she said of the current pedestrian experience downtown.
Durango multimodal manager Devin King said pedestrian and driver safety is another driving factor of the Downtown’s Next Step project. Over the last decade, 399 crashes were recorded along the Main Avenue corridor with 22 crashes involving pedestrians and six crashes involving cyclists, with 17 injuries reported.
City utilities manager Justin Elkins said the city will replace utility lines when actual construction occurs.
Lytle said the project balances different things surveyed residents said they wanted in community surveys completed last year. In short, the re-envisioning of downtown includes slightly narrower car lanes, wider sidewalks and expanded bulb-out sidewalks curbs.