Look at all the options…
Two meetings have been held in the last month to discuss the focus of this summer’s Crested Butte Transportation Plan Study, and to help guide it. Both meetings ended with participants expecting some focus on solutions to traffic congestion and parking issues in town.
At a May work session, the Crested Butte Town Council discussed what it would like to see addressed in the upcoming study. They emphasized that whatever conclusions are reached, additional concrete and paving is not the preferred outcome.
A citizens’ meeting was held Wednesday, June 4 and, given the perfect evening, only about a half dozen of the 18 people who showed up were not associated somehow with local transportation. That group also voiced support for solutions that emphasized education over pavement, but the idea of a new parking structure played prominently in suggestions for the future.
Town planner Michael Yerman presented some history and a plan outline at both meetings that would focus on four key categories: traffic and cars; transit; parking; and bike, pedestrian and other multi-modal transportation.
A request for proposals has gone out in hopes of finding a qualified consultant soon. Yerman said the town staff would do some early information gathering, such as compiling the number of parking spaces and other hard facts. “We want the report to have some solutions and opportunities, some actionable items,” Yerman told the council.
“We have all seen the dramatic growth in traffic during the summers,” said Mayor Aaron Huckstep. “We want to plan proactively and stay ahead of the situation.”
“You will end up with various strategies,” said Todd Crossett, town manager. “Some will hopefully be easy and affordable. Others might need more regional partnering.”
“We want to look 10 or 20 years down the road,” said Councilperson Glenn Michel. “We don’t want the town to be dominated by cars in the future. That’s why something like satellite parking might be needed in the future.”
“Be careful about looking that far ahead,” cautioned Councilperson Jim Schmidt. “The previous studies all made some suppositions that never came true, especially with the winter traffic expectations.”
Schmidt said he specifically wanted to hear the pros and cons of things like making Elk Avenue a pedestrian mall; opening the Butte Avenue bridge to vehicles; and constructing a round-about at Red Lady Avenue and Seventh Street by the school. He also wanted to hear more about the benefits of a parking structure.
“In our town, we have to look at the social aspects as well,” Schmidt said. “It’s not just about getting a car closest to a particular point.”
“I expect we’ll see intertwined strategies,” added Councilperson Chris Ladoulis. “Satellite parking is a waste if you don’t give people incentives to use it. So we might have to consider paid parking on Elk or resident parking on the nearby neighborhood streets, along with satellite parking. It is a complex issue that probably needs several strategies.”
“The regional aspect should be a priority as well,” added Councilperson Roland Mason. “Look at the impacts if the county paves Kebler Pass. Look at the RTA bus system.”
During the public meeting, Yerman had three tables of people with a map to identify transportation issues in town. Everyone agreed that the Mountain Express bus system was a hugely positive attribute that worked well. “So I shouldn’t think about messing with that,” concluded Yerman. The perception of Crested Butte as pedestrian- and bike-friendly also topped the positives mentioned by meeting participants.
The area by the highway and Red Lady Avenue used as the entrance to the school was mentioned by each group as a problem area that needed to be addressed. A possible parking structure at the lot behind the Visitor’s Center was noted as a possible need for the future.
And there was the summer congestion on Elk Avenue generated by increased vehicle, bike and foot traffic along with sidewalk seating and the entire streetscape that includes lampposts, recycling bins, benches and bike racks. Everything from making a portion of Elk a pedestrian mall or at least “one way” to just living with the July congestions “as a price we pay for the rest of the year” was discussed. The idea of bridge access to the northwest side of town was also discussed, with no solutions.
“The consultant needs to understand traffic in July is very different from traffic in January,” said Schmidt. “We don’t want a recommendation to build the church for Easter. Winter traffic is much different.”
“There are also other public assets not owned by the town to keep in mind,” said Huckstep. “The first thing that comes to mind is the school parking lot that isn’t used much in the summer.”
“Ultimately, we are looking for a Crested Butte solution,” said Michel. “A Crested Butte solution is not more concrete and pavement. There is probably more emphasis on human behavior.”
The rest of the council agreed with that sentiment.
Yerman promised to try to have more public outreach to gather feedback throughout the summer. He foresees another public meeting on the issue in September to begin talking about solutions. He might try a rain dance the day of the meeting to get more citizens to the meeting.
The last town transportation study was conducted in 1998. “The goal is to maintain the sense of community in town,” concluded Yerman.