Colorado Springs: The Olympic City Needs More Legacy Loops
It’s not healthy to go outside, nor is it safe. The sunshine hides. Morning rains no longer carry a refreshing scent. Breathing was never meant to bring fear yet now, anxiety has become a byproduct of this natural function. The city’s means of transportation have birthed smog beams so thick they could be slit with a knife.
This is not a description of China, or any other foreign country for that matter. It’s a disturbing image of America’s own Big Apple only fifty years ago, circa 1966. The scare of the 1966 smog blanket spurred New York City to pass a myriad of laws to combat its trajectory into a smog-obscured, nightmarish future—one that China is unable to wake up from at present. Although The Big Apple has never been known for clear blue skies or crisp, clean air, the measures it took those fifty years ago saved it from a deadly downward spiral into worse air quality.
Colorado Springs, however, is known for its bright blue skies and crisp mountain air. New York began to fight pollution after the smog scare of 1966, but if Colorado Springs wants to keep its crisp air, the city needs to take steps toward accommodating a much larger population now and not later. To reduce the risk of losing her clear skies, the Springs needs to actively begin modeling itself after the Big Apple in how city planners construct infrastructure friendly to walkers and bikers in order to remain ahead of the pollution pandemic.
Colorado Springs was not initially built to house so many people or facilitate a swift upsurge of traffic. The population continues to inflate with no sign of slowing at a rate far more rapid than the city can handle. In 1955, the Springs’ population was 73,000. Now in 2016, the Springs metro area has grown to nearly 700,000 people. A population of that size and one still growing foretells an immense air pollution increase solely due to vehicle emissions. Because Colorado Springs is not nearly as walker friendly as it ought, its citizens are forced to own at least one car per household for activities as simple and necessary as grocery shopping. In contrast, only six percent of New York City residents use a vehicle for such common errands.
The Rocky Mountain city must not wait until its streets are unmanageably congested and its skies polluted before making changes to its approach toward transportation. Roads can only handle so many cars and the air only so much emissions. The first step that needs to be taken is to implement means for people to bike, walk, or use efficient public transport year-round through the major parts of the city. Imagine a city nestled at the foot of America’s Mountain committed to creating ways for its citizens to go about their day without ever having to use a vehicle, and enjoy alternate means of transportation made easily accessible. Colorado Springs is headed in that direction.
A project commencing this fall called “Legacy Loop” will encircle the greater downtown area with a ten-mile path dedicated solely to pedestrian traffic. It is a first major attempt by officials to structure the city around the idea of walking and biking as a legitimate means of getting around town. The hope is to use paths and trails to connect the city rather than relying on trying to fit more vehicle traffic on roads, thus reducing the size of the city’s carbon footprint. The entire loop will take three years to complete, but a large majority of the project, including the trail head, began this fall. This is just one way that the Springs can begin to increase the appeal of walking or biking. If the city desires this trail to be used year-round, friction-charged heating systems should be essential under the road surfaces to keep snow and ice from building up on the trail.
The average American citizen contributes twenty-four metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution per year, while the average New Yorker is only responsible for seven metric tons due to the mass use of walking, biking, or public transport. If more trials like Legacy Loop are erected throughout the city, Springs residents will also contribute less pollution to the air the city breathes every day. Although Olympic City’s population is a far cry from the Big Apple’s at present (8,045,249 less people), it must not wait until it arrives at that point to begin thinking of ways to combat a smog blanket from resting over its skies. Getting its residents to see the benefit of forgoing a portion of their independence in owning a vehicle for the sake protecting the air the next generation breathes will be difficult, but an essential endeavor nonetheless.
If Colorado Springs does not begin taking steps toward building a city less dependent on owning a personal vehicle, it will quickly be overwhelmed and unable to remain on top of the pollution pandemic. The city cannot even keep up with filling its potholes, so it most certainly should take action to combat this greater, not-so-distant issue now rather than later. The consequences of not thinking ahead of an inevitable future problem are of no laughing matter. No longer will America’s Mountain stand clearly seen towering high into the sky, but it will be hidden by our own unwillingness to change for the better. The next generation’s risk of contracting lung and heart disease will skyrocket, and the two-hundred-plus days of sunshine the Springs takes for granted will take an excessive blow and be greatly missed. The stakes are too high not to act. Colorado views are too beautiful not to change our methods of transportation. Projects similar to Legacy Loop must multiply if Olympic City desires to keep her skies just as beautiful in one hundred years as they are today.
Constructing a city that accommodates a population surge does not include building larger roads, but better bike trails. The Colorado Springs of tomorrow—if we truly love her “purple mountain majesty”—must proactively build our city for the sake of the walker, biker, and public transit user. Olympic City has a great legacy to leave, and we, its citizens, have the responsibility to unsure that legacy does not succumb to the blanket of smog that already claims so many of our nation’s cities.
Chase Windebank is a 20-year-old Colorado native who skydives and climbs. He grew up adventuring through the wilderness, often writing poetry about its beauty and searching for new creative challenges. He is passionate about family, the Christian Bible, writing, and keeping Colorado beautiful.