COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- It's hard to believe that residents on one side of the city have a life expectancy of 16 years lower than anywhere else in town.
"I'm shocked," said southeast side resident Dru Johnson, while walking his dog Friday. "I didn't know that. It definitely should be changed and investigated."
That's the case for the southeast side of Colorado Springs, the area generally between downtown and the airport.
The statistic from El Paso County Health is no surprise to experts who have been following the plight of the southeast side for years, but came as a shock to the city Planning Commission during a presentation at Thursday's meeting.
"That seems like something we should address immediately," said chairman Reggie Graham.
A new effort has already begun. A group of local leaders and planners started the Southeast Community Plan earlier this year. The group will meet regularly to study problems in the area, gather feedback from residents and formulate action plans over the next 12 to 18 months.
A high number of low-income residents, lack of affordable and quality housing, greater health issues, few dining and healthy eating options, and even being hotter in the summer than other parts of town, are reasons given for the level of concern on the southeast side.
"Surveys are telling us that people are dissatisfied with the transit situation," said Hannah Van Nimwegen, the plan's project manager. "They're uncomfortable with riding bikes or walking along Academy Boulevard, for example."
City Councilwoman Yolanda Avila, whose district includes the southeast side, has tried to raise awareness about the situation for several years.
"We need to remove the barriers to opportunity," she said. "One thing that will happen is a project on South Academy Boulevard, from Bijou Street to Drennan Road. "We'll make it more walkable and plant more trees, so that it won't be the heat island that it is now."
During Thursday's presentation, Andrea Vaughn, a graduate student at University of Colorado-Denver, showed images of a reimagined Academy Boulevard as part of a research project.
"We don't know yet if her ideas will be part of the final solutions," Van Nimwegen said. "And it's too early to know how much solutions will cost. But we want to come up with ideas that we think will work."
The clock is already ticking for many southeast side residents, but they hope that solutions will eventually restore some of the lost 16 years in life expectancy.