New "Urban Design"
Sun, 10 Oct 1999 21:57:42 EDT

The following was published in today's Sunday Gazette (10-10-99).
Matt Parkhouse, RN Colorado Springs, CO

<<<New bridge won't display welcome mat

By Sara Kugler/The Gazette
Story editor Sue McMillin; headline by Rhonda Van Pelt

The state Transportation Department doesn't want anyone hanging out beneath 
its bridge.
As they plan for the Interstate 25 interchange improvements at Nevada Avenue, 
Colorado Department of Transportation officials are seeking advice from the 
experts on how to design a bridge that won't become a home for the homeless 
or a refuge for criminals.

Colorado Springs police officer Dennis Davidson, one of the city's three 
crime prevention officers, is telling the engineers how do do it.

"Anytime you build a bridge or an overpass, if you build it in the old style, 
that leaves a place for them to go and camp out under there," he said.

This will be the first time police have advised a bridge project, and 
Davidson's help is key because, ideally, it will prevent problems that 
transportation officials wouldn't necessarily consider.

"Once it's built it's too late," Davidson said. "We would rather see it built 
the right way the first time."

When Davidson surveys the area, he sees a thick grove of trees and bushes 
that surround the west bank of the bridge, providing good cover.Then there's 
the poor lighting and nearby creek bed.

As they design the new bridge, the Transportation Department and the Police 
Department want to make it nearly impossible for anyone to huddle there.

"We're building the interchange to eliminate any possible gang hangouts, and 
we're going to light it under the bridge real well to kind of distract some 
of the homeless from finding places to live," said Dan Hunt, project manager 
for the state Transportation Department.

Hunt said the homeless are a concern to the businesses around the bridge, as 
well as to the police who patrol the area.

Previous efforts to control the activities of homeless people who frequent 
the area have had mixed results. Last summer, Police Chief Lorne Kramer asked 
City Council to ban panhandling near the interstate because of safety issues.

The council postponed any action until this fall, and asked Kramer to provide 
more information that panhandlers truly pose a safety hazard. Some council 
members were concerned that they were infringing on the rights of 
panhandlers. But the issue hasn't gone away.

"There's a lot of homeless people and people at the bottoms of the ramps 
panhandling," said Mike Hegeman, a salesman at Colorado Springs Jeep Chrysler 
Plymouth, which has lots to the north and west of the bridge.

Employees at the car dealership once discovered someone sleeping on their 
front steps. They have also had incidents in which customers were approached 
and asked for money or cigarettes.

Coaltrain Wine and Liquor on West Uintah Street has had similar issues. It 
sits just east of another I-25 bridge and northwest of the Uintah Street 
bridge over Monument Creek.

"I think it's a good idea to design the bridges so they can't live under 
there," said manager Dennis Gerwatowski. "Even though we have nothing 
personal against them, we try to have an upper-class clientele and 
panhandling scares customers away."

The $17.5 million Nevada Avenue project includes plans to elongate the on- 
and off-ramps and to widen I-25 to three lanes on each side.

Because panhandling has been one of the chief complaints in the Nevada Avenue 
area, Davidson wants engineers to design the off-ramps so it will be hard to 
stand at the end and beg.

He also says they can help prevent graffiti by coating signs with a spray 
that repels paint.

Once Davidson has had a chance to study the plans and visit the area again, 
he will recommend various building materials, landscaping and lighting.

"If there's a place where they could go underneath (the bridge), we'll plant 
hawthorn bushes because they're stickery. Those guys aren't going to sit in 
bushes that are stickery," Davidson said. 

The project's start date depends on funding - it could begin anytime between 
next summer and 2002.>>>