C.M. Robinson Plan for Colorado Springs
August 2, 1905
Colorado Springs Gazette
"Would Transform Streets Into Lanes Of Greensward"


Charles Mulford Robinson, Noted Expert, Outlines Elaborate System of Parking In His Report to City Officials.

The plans of Charles Mulford Robinson, the noted good roads expert, for the improvement of the city’s streets, were last evening presented to the city council by Mayor Hall. The plans are so comprehensive and suggestive that the full report is herewith given for the guidance of property owners:

To His Honor, the Mayor, to the Members of the City Council and of the El Paso County Good Roads Association:

Gentlemen: - In compliance with your request, I have made and examination of the principal streets and avenues of Colorado Springs, with a view to making suggestions regarding their aesthetic development by parking or otherwise. In the opportunity offered and the inspiring surroundings and promise of the future, I have found the problem more interesting than I anticipated.

The question whether the broad streets of Colorado Springs may properly be parked is not to be settled entirely by the relation of their breadth to the traffic offering or promise. In greater degree than usual the question is to be carried back for answer to such fundamental considerations as the nature of the city, the purpose of its existence and the future that is in store for it. I shall indicate very briefly a few thoughts on this matter, considerations that must be familiar to you all, but that have so important a connection with the subject in hand that they cannot be passed over.

City Characteristics.

Colorado Springs is not and does not aspire to be, a manufacturing city; it is not a great trading center, and it is not a capital city. Its two great possessions are its air and its scenery; the one notable for its life-giving qualities, the other, for the inexhaustibleness of its beauty and grandeur. To be a pleasure and a health resort is, therefore, its destiny; and to be the Mecca of the beauty-lovers, of the travelers; the Switzerland that beckons the multitudes of the east across the rolling prairie of their own great country, to drink their fill of its marvelous scenery, instead of crossing tempestuous seas to mountains that are no grander than the Rockies. And catering to these two great classes, Colorado Springs will find a third coming here to make its home - the growing leisure class - made up of the well-to-do who can live where they please, wherever the world seems to them at its best and life to be fullest of satisfaction. With these three sources of strength, numerical and financial, must come the army of workers to supply their wants.

This way, then, lies prosperity, culture, wealth and growth. It is given to a hundred cities to be manufacturing centers, but what do they make that is comparable with your scenery and your air; it is given to many communities to grow rich by the exchange of commodities, but what can they sell as precious as health or as beautiful as the mountain views that you offer to those who come to you; it is given to a few places to legislate for the increased security and happiness of people, but your season does not end with a legislative session nor are the security and happiness you offer dependent on party caucuses. The class in which is to be put Colorado Springs is very small, very highly favored. It is for you to accept gladly its conditions and the responsibilities and obligations it involves. Only in proudly doing this, will you be true to yourselves.

Successfully to do it, you must be, to a large extent, individual in your methods of development, you must not look to this city or to that city where conditions are different and try to be as they are; but you must consider what are the local requirements and try to meet these.

A Salon De Reunion.

Now, scenery and air are the two great products of Colorado Springs. The life to which you invite people must be largely a life out-of-doors. Your climate is delightful the year round, and to live in the sunshine, which with you is so abundant, means happiness and health to many of your citizens. With you, therefore, the function of the street is not the same as in most other communities. You are to make it not merely a means of communication for going from one point to another, but in the fitting of the street to the city’s needs you are to have the conception of it that is familiar in cities of southern Europe. That is, you should make it an out-of-doors room, inviting people to loiter there, to sit in the sunshine and enjoy the views. The French have a term which they sometimes apply to the street in this connection. They call it the Salon de Reunion. This is the view of it that you should take in Colorado Springs. Each street should extend the invitation that will be so beautifully extended by Monument Valley park when the trees have grown larger there.

This is the philosophical phase of the question. It is what Colorado Springs ought to do to fit its streets best for the transaction of the city’s business. Coming to the practical side of the question we find the streets and avenues very broad. There are thoroughfares of one hundred and one hundred and forty feet in width, where the density of traffic is and must be always light. On many of these streets the driving has worn a roadway of but twenty-five to thirty feet and the rest of the road is a waste of dust, or is overgrown with weeds and grass, or at best, is kept in order only at great expense. You have the need for parking to make these streets beautiful and attractive, and you have the opportunity for it in great width where the traffic requires but little. The question narrows down to the kind of parking required.

In this matter I do not think it wise to make any single rule that shall apply to the whole city. The streets of the city should have the individuality of the rooms of a house. They are not all utilized for the same purpose; they are not all inhabited by the same kind of people; they do not all command the same views; they are not all of the same width, differ from one another in various other conditions. Premising the general considerations which I have named, I would make the following recommendations and suggestions:

The Main Axis.

The main axis of Colorado Springs is north and south and your more important and prominent residential streets are, and are to be, those running north and south. This tends always to be the rule, since the houses located on such streets have the advantage of receiving the sun on two sides. Because sun means so much to many of your residents, this must be especially the case here. Furthermore, the north and south streets command here the finest views of the mountains and you have made them the broad avenues. For these streets I would recommend as a rule, central parking. This gives a statelier appearance than the side parking. It emphasizes rather than lessens the apparent breadth of the street and it will lend itself more readily to a treatment inviting enjoyment of the views and a life out of doors. If we can arrange a central walk, or put seats in the middle of the parking, people will have less hesitation in strolling and sitting there than they would have in doing so directly before a house. In this central parking, speaking generally, I would be chary of the trees lest these shut out the view; and in your climate you have no need …(indecipherable)… the street trees, let me strongly disapprove of the present method of mixing maples and elms where you are supplanting the cottonwood with these. On a single street, you should adopt a single variety. Plant the elms on one street and maples on another, if you will, but do not mix them. And give to the trees, plenty of room to grow; strive to put them in the center of parking rather than at its edge. Between deciduous trees here, I would advise a space of not less than forty feet, and if you can get grass on both sides rather than on one side only, you will find the trees doing better.

A Noble Street.

The most westerly of the north and south avenues that are east of Monument Valley park is Wood avenue. It is a noble street, a hundred feet wide, and its location should assure it a superb view of the mountains. The reason that people live on it is that they may see the mountains. For a distance of three blocks from its terminus at the college grounds to Astoria street, a parking has been put down the center of the street and strikingly distinguishes it. It is so much better than the waste of dust beyond that one hesitates to criticize; and, a strip of greensward planted with trees, it has at least the merit of uniformity in their planting. The trees are all maples. The houses are pretentious and the sidewalk treatment is correspondingly good. There is a strip of well kept turf between the walk and lot line, a six-foot walk, which, by the way, is an excellent width on most residential streets, and then six feet of lawn between the walk and curb. All this is correct and I have no change to recommend until the central parking is reached. That is too narrow, it has too marked a crown, and it was a mistake to put trees on it. On the three blocks already parked, I would advise the widening of the middle parking by eight feet on each side. This street having no important outlet will never be a thoroughfare sought by through travel. Its future, and its beautiful future, is to be a fine residential street, sought for its scenic advantages. In thus widening the parking, the trees will be better protected, their roots better nourished, and if you are to have trees at all, you want good ones, and the crown of the parking can be thus diminished. A five-foot gravel walk might with advantage, I think, be then put down the center of the parking. It would be an undoubted attraction here, it would be entirely appropriate, and it would distinguish the parking on Wood avenue from that on other streets and would emphasize the avenue’s claims to consideration. I presume this will seem a radical suggestion and one not at once popular, but I believe that if carried out it would soon find favor. A tapis vert would be preferable, of course; but where it is necessary to nourish the lawns to carefully, it would be out of the question to allow walking on the grass.

Irrigation Problem.

As to the irrigation problem here, the widening of the parking would add no new difficulty; and as to the proportionate narrowing of the two roadways, the most cursory glance will show that the eight feet to be added on each side of the middle parking is now undriven upon, and tends to go of itself to grass and weeds in spite of care. Beyond Astoria street, where parking is yet to be done, the middle strip should be continued at the new depth and even at the cost of an unfortunate diversity in the treatment, I would not plant trees upon it. It will be observed that where, in the existing parking, the trees are fairly well grown, they already shut out completely the view of the mountains from the east walk. That certainly is not the end to be desired in the beautifying of this street. The ideal treatment for the middle parking of Wood avenue, which can presumably be now carried out only north of Astoria street, is a thirty-six-foot strip of greensward, with a low crown, for aesthetic reasons as well as that it may better hold the water, a five-foot walk of pink granite gravel down its center, this making a delightful and decorative contrast, and the planting on the greensward confined to those low native plants of which this locality affords so great and beautiful a variety, and which needs relatively little petting. Let the planting here, where the great view is of nature in all the wildness and beauty of the Colorado mountains, be of silver sage, of "baby’s breath," of the columbine, matrimony and the penstamon. Wood avenue, with its great view and its parking thus developed, would be one of the beautiful residential streets of the world; and to gain the result there is needed no large expenditure and no achievement in irrigation that has not been already successfully accomplished on this street.

Cascade Avenue.

Coming now to Cascade avenue, the next east, we find a great through thoroughfare and the show street of the city. For a considerable distance on its northern section an expensive and elaborate system of central parking has been already installed. This is a feature to be reckoned with, and with such modifications as would add to its beauty, it ought to be continued. A uniform extension of the system north from Bijou street, where the business portion may be considered to begin, to the city limits, is desirable, so giving a sumptuous appearance to the whole street; enhancing its dignity by not breaking it into sections, as a change in the parking would do; and by its division of the traffic into north bound and south bound streams, serving the travel better than would even a somewhat wider single roadway. This is the logical and consistent thing to do on North Cascade avenue. Another, plan, however, has been drawn up for that portion of the avenue which cuts the college grounds; and because this may be carried through and will then create an entirely new condition, an alternative plan must be presented.

Central Parking.

Considering first the central parking, it will be necessary if continuing it to modify as little as possible the present treatment. The character of this is extremely formal. There are very conspicuous cement curbs, both at the gutter and around the middle parking, a well graded central strip of greensward, to which the curb gives neatly rounded ends at the street intersections. This is planted most prominently with roses, interior beds of geometrical design contrasting none too well with informal clumps at the ends and at intervals on the sides. It is practicable to make small changes that will improve the effect without essentially altering its character. For instance, on the rest of North Cascade avenue, if this middle system be continued, there should not be so wide a separation at street intersections between the strips of parking. There is no necessity for so much intervening space and an examination of the lines of travel will show how much closer together the strips can be brought, with very great gain in the streets effectiveness. On the portion already parked, it is hardly to be expected that the existing condition will be changed; but is could be much improved even there by placing in the center of each intervening desert, an electric light standard. The present suspended system is not good, having a temporary appearance not in harmony with the substantial character of the street’s development. The light would be suitably placed at the confluence of the streets and a well designed iron standard here on a rounded one-foot high cement base, would be an ornamental and striking feature that would seem to explain the wide breaks. In the parking itself, I would advise no change except the elimination of geometrical designs in the interior beds. Shrubs never grow in diamonds and crescents. Rounded or oblong clumps would carry out the same general effect as at present with better taste and in better harmony with the planning at the ends and sides.

Curbing.

As to the present very prominent curb at the irrigation ditch, designed as I am told as a site for hitching posts, that is too bad a feature to be continued. Indeed, it is well to remember, in the development of streets in all parts of Colorado Springs that while curbing is necessary, aesthetically as well as practically, with brick and block pavements, it is by no means appropriate artistically where pavements are of gravel or macadam; and often times is not even a good thing practically, since it prevents surface water from reaching the turf and trees that it might otherwise do much to help. For that reason, the lack of curbing around the middle parking on Wood avenue, for example, is to be commended. In the case of the irrigation ditch on North Cascade avenue, there is of course a necessity for a curb, but we should not emphasize any more than we have to, in adorning the streets, this wholly utilitarian feature, and we must reduce its width and prominence as far as we can. But this does not mean that it may be ignored, or left to haphazard development. As an engineering feature, the curbing is to be managed in an orderly, uniform and permanent fashion. To secure this result, with your system of curb construction by the property owner, there is need of an ordinance requiring curb and gutter to conform to a specified standard. On a park-like residential street, the curb will look best if made of concrete. There is hardly need of saying that wooden ditches ought to go. Rotting quickly, they have little practical value, and in their slipshod appearance and speedy gathering of dirt, they promptly become an eyesore, unworthy of a city such as yours. In most cases your ditch or gutter, can be advantageously constructed of brick placed on sand.

Darling of the City.

This slightly modified and improved middle parking carried through North Cascade, will give that street a very rich appearance, and with its closely cut turf, its gleaming curb, its profusion of delicate roses and garden shrubs, the thoroughfare will seem to be, as doubtless it is, the darling of the city. To carry out the same treatment on South Cascade avenue would be desirable, if feasible, for then we should be calling attention to the relative length and importance of this whole street. But if this be not practicable here, or at the extreme northern end I would not give up the middle parking, but would only change its form. I should advise a setting apart of a middle strip corresponding in width to that now reserved, and that instead of planting this in turf and roses, it be raised some ten inches above the roadbed and frankly graveled. Along this graveled reserve, seats should be placed at intervals on South Cascade especially, and at the ends of the strips, where cross streets intersect it, and now and then between the ends, there should be planted groups of the hardy native low conifers which grow with little care and which in the variety of pines, of cedar and blue spruce, lend themselves so readily to effective planting.

The obvious unity thus given to the whole street, the development only changing with the character of the street while the engineering features remain the same, presents another and strong argument for no change from middle to side parking on the northern section of the avenue. But if that change be made at, and through the college grounds, I would advise that in further development of North Cascade avenue, the middle parking be continued north from its present northern terminus and the side parking continued from the college grounds to Bijou street. In this side parking, for which plans have already been drawn, I would urge that the width of the walk be changed from ten feet to six feet, which is quite broad enough and the usual width on parked streets, and the width of most of the concrete walks already laid, and that the central roadway be cut down from sixty-two feet, as planned, to certainly no more than forty feet. In this connection, it may be remarked that Mr. Bradburn, the engineer who accompanied the Good Roads people at their recent meeting here, expressed the opinion that thirty-two to thirty-six feet was wide enough for the pavement between curbs on a residence street, even in this city of very broad streets. I may also add that in some parked and thickly populated streets of Philadelphia and of most Eastern cities, a twenty-five foot roadway is quite common, and that it is the judgment of a Chicago landscape architect of considerable experience in street building that "where there are no street car tracks, experience has shown that thirty-two feet is ample width for a thickly settled residential district." So, in cutting down the proposed breadth of the central roadway, if side parking be adopted, from sixty-two feet to forty feet, we would at least be running no risk of over-crowding; and would be even allowing some ten feet more than necessary, as far as the traffic is concerned, or than is usual. But we could afford to be generous on so a wide a thoroughfare, and especially because at the meeting of the systems of middle and side parking they would blend more naturally if the middle roadway did thus nearly approximate the width of the middle parking. At this junction point, the divided roadways would be brought in sweeping curves, outlined by the curved end of the side parking, into the corresponding central roadway.

Tear Down Fences.

Whether or not side parking be adopted on this portion of Cascade avenue, a very important work remains to be done at the curving street intersections on the west side of the avenue between Park place and Cache la Poudre. In very few cases has this happy and perfectly obvious opportunity been well handled, and even at Boulder Crescent, where a pleasant triangle of grass has been established, it is essential for good effect to tear down the fence that now surrounds it. These triangles, however established or maintained, should appear as part of the street, and the neighborhood public spirit that looks after them will not hesitate at that slight further step. In the case of these curved street intersections, considering them as a group the principal to be insisted upon is that the streets do, and must be allowed to curve. They must not be brought at right angles into Cascade avenue, like the other intersecting streets, and their angles added to the side parking. They must follow their natural curve, to the right and left, into Cascade avenue; and if the intervening space be not large enough for landscape treatment, even a clump of bushes would be good, there will at least a room for a boulder, or a lighting standard. In the corners of the present triangle at Bijou street, shrubs should be planted.

Turf Car Tracks.

On Tejon street, the next east, I think the best thing to do is to put turf between the car tracks and for at least two feet outside of the outside rail. Indeed, the ease with which grass can be here looked after, thanks to the trolley sprinkling system, the gain of the consequent absence of dust and the lessening of noise as …(indecipherable)… the amount of work that you …(indecipherable)… otherwise before you …(indecipherable)… treatment for all streets outside the small business section that have car tracks. Except where travel is heavy, and on the wider avenues three to four feet of grass outside of the track would be better than two. Beyond Tejon is Nevada avenue and north and south on this a system of middle parking has been already installed. The street is so well to the east that there is no scenic objection to the trees here, and they offer a pleasant variety of treatment that has already delightfully individualized this street. But the parking here is open to the same constructive objections as that at present placed on Wood avenue. As in that case, the middle strip should be widened on each side and the crown reduced. This will add very much to the appearance of the street; it will be better for the trees and involve no increased cost for maintenance. When North Nevada avenue passes the college grounds, the parking has been interrupted to make room for the street car tracks. Here, certainly, the right-of-way should be turfed, that the parking may seem to be continued and for this short distance, only two blocks, the company should be required to dispense with the present trolley pole system and use the double armed, single iron pole between the tracks. This will pleasantly carry on the line of the trees and with the grass, will restore this short section of the street, some of the charm of which it has been robbed.

On Weber Street.

Beyond Nevada avenue lies Weber street, a hundred feet wide. Because it is one hundred instead of one hundred and forty, and because for all the thoroughfares west of it, middle parking has been recommended, I would here suggest side parking as a pleasant change. It will also be easier to irrigate. I would advise a thirty foot roadway, eighteen feet of parking on each side of it, between road and ditch, a six-foot walk three feet from the lot line and the balance in walk parking. If …(indecipherable)… the road parking there be scattered groups of native shrubs, such as the spirea, the dwarf oak, yucca, etc., the stretch of greensward will be pleasant to the eye, will seem more decorative and will be easier to keep in order.

For a considerable portion of the more important part of Wahsatch avenue there is a car line through the center of the street, and this invites the central parking already described where car tracks cut a street.

We may take up now the east and west thoroughfares. These as distinctly cross streets, with the mountains offering a beautiful vista at one end, but lending themselves to no panoramic view, as on the more westerly of the north and south thoroughfares, should I have said, have side parking as a rule. I think this will be not only a pleasant change, but will create a delightful contrast at every street intersection. Pike’s Peak avenue, as arterial and having a car track, may be made an exception with middle parking. This has been established also, on a portion of East Platte, and I should like to see it, if the irrigation need can be cared for by hose, on East Kiowa street, leading to the State School for the Deaf and Blind. The school, situated on a hill, commands the street and the property foreground to it is turf. A fourth exception should be made in the case of Costilla street. This, as the direct approach to Prospect Lake, should be developed as a parkway.

New Boulevard.

It ought to be possible to pass from Monument Valley park, and its lovely adjacent avenues, to Prospect Lake with its circling drive of noble views and thence by a redeemed Hancock avenue to the boulevard and to …(indecipherable)… park, in a circular park-like drive would be pleasant from end to end …(indecipherable)… Costilla, especially in its eastern section, presents some engineering problems in the street’s abrupt fall from walk to walk. That sort of street, not easily parked where it is notable to made a considerable expenditure I have thought, therefore, that an attractive feature on this very wide street, and one entirely appropriate, would be a bridle path on its south side. There is no need, of course, for the walks to follow the grade of the road; and they do not do so now, but in making the road a connecting link between the walks without too deep a cut on one side and unfortunate elevation on the other, there is a tendency to a bad side-hill effect. This the bridle-path at a frankly lower level, terraced down from the roadway, would remedy. The trees planted between walk and curb would shade it; it would cost little to construct or maintain and in this city of horseback riders, such an approach to Prospect Lake should soon be popular. As to the redeeming of Hancock avenue, another street would possibly do as well for the park connection. The thing that matters is that there ought to be such a connection. This east side section, with its high ground and fine views, is entitled to development as a pretty residential quarter; but quite apart from its local value it has to the whole community the significance of a connection link between the eastern parks. For similar reasons Fontanero street should have especially careful parking through its brief length, as joining the Paseo with Wood and Cascade avenues. And the streets that lead down to the Rio Grande station should extend the beauty of what is already an exceptionally attractive railroad entrance to a city.

The West Side.

On the West Side, Colorado avenue is the direct route to Manitou and one of the most important and traveled streets of the city. The car tracks through its center invite middle turfing and the street’s value ought to be further emphasized by the system of middle poles with double arms. If the railroad company would make this change throughout Colorado avenue, the cities could afford to divide the strip thus turfed from the adjacent roadways by an eight inch curb. This would so effectually clear the right of way from obstructions that the cars could be safely run at increased speed. The parallel avenues to the right should then have side parking. In the low region between Limit street and the creek, there are some charming conditions that seem not to have been fully appreciated. There are delightfully curving streets of which Colorado Springs has none too many; there are some irregular intersections that could be easily beautified, and there are architectural accents, the Antlers hotel, closing the eastern vista of West Pike’s Peak avenue and the Carnegie Library as seen through West Kiowa street, that are unusual and fine. Spruce street with …(indecipherable)… and Walnut street with a natural middle parking already under way can be readily cared for. On Chestnut street the irrigation ditches should be moved further from the lot line …(indecipherable)… West Bijou street, if not for itself, at least for its connections, should have attention.

General Rules.

In the impossibility of dealing by name with every street in the city, and to provide for future growth, it may now be …(indecipherable)… to lay down some general rules to applied to streets not specifically mentioned. Where practicable, extend the present curb line from the lot line. On even sixty-foot streets, the walk …(indecipherable)… should be six feet wide, and never larger than three feet to the lot line. Between the walk and curb a space of six to nine feet is little enough. This means that the curb should be fifteen to nineteen feet from the lot line, on …(indecipherable)… narrow streets as you have. This will leave a roadway plenty wide enough. On eighty foot streets, the addition should be to the parking, not to a thirty foot road. On one hundred-foot streets with side parking, the roadway may be thirty-five feet wide, but it ought not to be any more. On one hundred and forty-foot streets, there should be middle as well as side parking. As in the case of the curb, it should be remembered that however useful the sidewalks and road may be, they do not add to the beauty of a street and that when as in most of your streets, clearly too wide for the travel, they do not enhance the apparent life and activity of the town, but give precisely the opposite impression. It should be said too, that the separation of the walk from the road by intervening turf and trees, is not merely aesthetically pleasant, but protects pedestrians from a splattering of mud and dust. On every residential street, there ought also to be a building line established by ordinance. This will add greatly to the beauty of the street and will be a protection to all who build homes. Finally, in improving the little waste spaces, that so frequently occur at street intersections, use shrubs more than grass. They are easier to take care of, needing attention only once or twice a year; their varied foliage, their flowers, even lodgment of the snow upon them, keep them attractive the year round, and they present a more substantial and fitting barrier than does the grass. And I would here use the native shrubs, not only because they will grow more easily, but because they are the natural and appropriate plants. Have the courage of your situation. Do not strive for the tenderfoot effects of an effete east. I would rather see boulders piled on a street corner and the clematis climbing over them, than all the hot house plants you could induce to grow there at a hundred times the expense. People come to Colorado Springs for the scenery of Colorado, of the plains and mountains. In the thinly settled portions of the town, the parking may be made beautiful even with sumac …(indecipherable)… and scrub oak. Let Colorado Springs be true to itself in tempering its streets if it would be most beautiful, most attractive.

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This project is partially funded by a State Historic Fund grant awarded from the Colorado Historical Society.