The interviews with my grandfather didn’t take as long as I thought they would. Stories, I’m starting to realize, may take their shape over hours and days but can be relayed in a matter of minutes. It was a depressing personal revelation: sharing our realities with another person tend to disappoint unless you’re blessed with the controlled quicksilver abilities of a natural storyteller. I spent a lot of the time looking around the different parts of COS while my grandparents were shuttling me between nostalgically significant geographies, my grandfather’s motorized picaresque.
As far as small cities go, I’d forgive you if you mistook COS for Des Moines, Iowa or Waco, Texas; it’s memorable for personal reasons and dotted with architectural Americana like the Broadmoor Hotel and the Colorado Mining Exchange. Colorado College flanks either side of Cascade Avenue and looks like most bucolic cloisters of American liberal arts—on an especially sunny spring day in May (coeds drinking Fat Tire on their above-market rate porches) the backdrop made me miss college and lazy afternoons. It’s a city that wouldn’t look odd if it was rendered in grainy black and white.
One other thing about the Springs: almost everyone drives everywhere. While Colorado is still the healthiest state in the nation by both statistical and anecdotal metrics, there is still the feeling that outside of the token bike lanes used mostly by the under-30-and-oft-bearded demographic there is not a desire in much of suburban America for anything outside of the current vernacular of urban planning. Too much traffic? Build more roads. Not enough housing? Build more housing. There isn’t a desire for anything different because necessity hasn’t dictated taking a different look in how things work in places like the Springs. People are generally happy with current planning practices because there aren’t diminishing returns for additive infrastructure—it’s vanilla planning for people who like vanilla.
That isn’t to say that my paternal homeland is somehow backwards or stunted (OK, maybe a little backwards). Necessity has driven places like New York to develop (and keep developing) stringent safety measures for pedestrians and cyclists, or Boston to link its mass transit system in a way that moves as many people as efficiently as possible (still in progress). For the middle country those driving mechanisms haven’t really presented themselves in any intractable way outside of marginally higher gas prices. (Yes, gas prices are at historical highs nominally and effectively but the financial affect on the vast majority of Americans is constantly and grossly overstates and those histrionics are probably the main reason that our interstate infrastructure is in such shoddy condition). Why would they need to change the equation if it’s working just fine for them?
And that’s why transportation changes will always be a local game. Infrastructure development is something that needs to be planned for the long run but is almost always dictated by immediate needs. In a standard small city like Colorado Springs, and indeed most metro-areas that don’t have any geographic bounds, the immediate needs are not going to include progressive infrastructure for another decade at least. Movements like Complete Streets may have taken off in cities that were already geared towards that sort of politic, but there will be a much tougher contingent to deal with in places like the Springs.