We now understand the importance of a pedestrian bridge that connects downtown Grand Junction to the Riverfront renovations taking place on the north bank of the Colorado River.

Separating the two are railroad tracks and the busy Riverside Parkway.

Quoting public officials, the Sentinel’s Duffy Hayes explained in a Sunday front-page story why a pedestrian bridge is a “front-burner city project.” Developers are unlikely to shift into high gear building out the Riverfront at Dos Rios until this critical piece of infrastructure comes to fruition.

But there’s much more at stake. As Hayes noted, “... what good are all the current hot spots of city development activity — the Riverfront at Dos Rios project, the Las Colonias Business Park nearby, the expansion of the Riverfront Trail system with a connection to the popular Lunch Loops trail head, the expansion of Two Rivers Convention Center and adjacent new hotel — if they’re not interconnected?

A pedestrian bridge solves only half the problem, however. Once built (the downtown side would begin near the old train depot on South Avenue) the bridge could only be accessed by crossing the one-way Ute and Pitkin avenues.

That section of roadway — the Interstate 70 Business Loop where the “elbow” bends between Union Station and the old Mesa Pawn property — has long been a candidate for improvements by the state Department of Transportation. But such improvements are more about moving traffic than improving pedestrian conditions.

The city is hoping that CDOT will consider putting a traffic light somewhere on Ute/Pitkin that will allow pedestrians safe passage from downtown to the proposed pedestrian bridge.

“I think this is an absolute must — otherwise we’re just creating a bridge that going to be really hard to get to,” said Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Brandon Stam.

He’s right. That’s why asking for a traffic light seems to be aiming low. Stam also said it would be “short-sighted not to think of this area how we envision it.”

We’ve already suggested once that now is the time to explore all possibilities for creating the kind of pedestrian friendly downtown we’ve all imagined. What kind of development could arise if visitors could easily get to Union Station, the Pufferbelly and the proposed pedestrian bridge without crossing Ute and Pitkin? Think of what increased pedestrian traffic could to reclaim Whitman Park.

How difficult is it to get ballpark figures for elevating the section of Ute/Pitkin that bends, or putting it underground and allowing for greenspace where the road used to be?

If grade separation turns out to be cost-prohibitive, can we work to convince CDOT (who has jurisdiction over this section of the roadway) that slowing down traffic, for a three- or four-block pedestrian priority zone, is more important than moving traffic through the area at 45 or 50 mph?

Re-engineering the road by CDOT must address the pedestrian challenges at the same time. Can city engineers not look at the options — impediments and cost — to create a starting point about what best serves the multitude of interests currently hanging their hopes on a hard-to-reach pedestrian bridge? Most of the time, CDOT proposes and cities react and comment. Can we not reverse that pattern and put forward our own ideas for CDOT to respond to?

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