Rubber hits the road when it comes to money
At a two-hour work session on Monday, March 16 the Crested Butte Town Council was presented with several draft recommendations to make future transportation in town smoother.
The proposals put forth by town planner Michael Yerman and consultant Ted Ritschard included a stoplight or round-about at the Four-way Stop; new turning lanes or a round-about at the Red Lady/Highway 135 intersection; vehicle bridges over Coal Creek connecting the northwest neighborhood of town to Sixth Street; a potential revamping of the Mountain Express bus route that ultimately gets buses off Elk Avenue; and a potential increase in parking-in-lieu fees.
The council will mull over the long-term suggestions and give some specific feedback this spring.
With a 48-slide PowerPoint presentation, Yerman outlined feedback from a series of public meetings. “The primary goal is to keep Crested Butte a pedestrian- and bike-oriented community,” he said. “The Jeffersonian town grid is fantastic and still works. The congestion problems we have we have done to ourselves. The town park is a giant barrier to a section of town. I’m not saying cut streets through there but look at the reality.”
“Not having bridge access to the northwest side of town causes congestion on Elk Avenue since everyone going over there comes up Elk to Second or First Streets. There are 180 residential units with two portals of access. We’ve hampered ourselves on the grid connections and created our own issues.”
The top issues Yerman said need to be addressed in the future included an increasingly congested Elk Avenue, the busyness of the Four-way Stop, parking in town, and the periodic traffic clogs at Red Lady Avenue, especially when school is starting or letting out.
“Elk Avenue is a model for a ‘destination’ street but it is at times over-congested. Now, is that a problem or a condition? Does Elk have a top capacity?” Yerman asked. “For example, a 15 mile per hour speed limit works in Crested Butte, even on Elk Avenue. Having people and bikes on Elk actually slows people down.”
Yerman said Elk Avenue was closed for special events 45 days in 2014. That included any closure from the Festival of the Arts to the weekly Farmers Market in the summer.
Mayor Aaron Huckstep said he hears about safety concerns on Elk during busy times of the year, such as July.
Yerman said the town staff looked at ramifications of making Elk a pedestrian mall, making it one-way or leaving it as is. The mall idea would cause too many issues with deliveries, trash, loss of parking and major impacts on the nearby residential streets, so the staff didn’t like the idea. It could be possible to make it one-way heading west while keeping the parking spaces and adding bike lanes but there were issues with that idea as well. Yerman said he could see vehicles speeding up and the street becoming less safe. The council agreed that making it a pedestrian mall wasn’t feasible and generally agreed with the staff that the existing situation with “friction” elements to maintain slow speeds was probably the best, along with closures for special events.
“It’s a great street,” said Ritschard. “I’d mess with it as little as possible.”
Red Lady and Highway 135
Yerman said that based on projections, the Red Lady intersection at the entrance to town would be maxed out by the year 2020. The Four-way Stop was feeling pressure but would not max out by then.
Engineering and installing turning lanes on 135 and Red Lady would cost about $400,000, compared to a $1.2 million round-about. “But the look and message of the turn lanes isn’t pretty,” said Yerman.
Ritschard said just improving the traffic flow at Red Lady should have a positive impact on many of the transportation goals in Crested Butte. “But the turn lanes are a vehicle-based solution,” he said. “Round-abouts are actually oblong and they function well. They slow down traffic and set the tone for what drivers should expect as they enter Crested Butte.”
“The reality is that given costs, we’ll have to pick and choose and the safety issue of the school over there probably pushes this to number one,” Yerman added.
“I get the feeling CDOT would support a round-about there right now,” said town Public Works director Rodney Due.
Bridges over Coal Creek
Yerman said he would like to see a couple of bridges installed over Teocalli and Gothic Avenues to the north side of town. “I think the people who ultimately benefit will be the people who live there,” he said. “I hope we can delay major work at the Four-way by eliminating some barriers—by putting in bridges to the northwest side of town, for example.”
He said a traffic light would cost about $300,000 at the Four-way Stop compared to about $1 million for a round-about. “The cost difference is pretty big,” he noted. “Can making increased changes like supporting more public transportation work instead?”
Yerman went bold with an idea to eventually take the Mountain Express bus coming down from the mountain and run it over Teocalli (across a new bridge) to Second Street, through Big Mine Park, down Belleview and up Sixth. It would bypass Elk except for stops at the Old Town Hall and the Four-way Stop.
“With a potential annexation and new affordable housing on the east side of town, a circulator bus might be needed there as well,” Yerman said. “But the idea helps ease congestion on Elk.”
Councilman Skip Berkshire and Huckstep both said the buses are an amenity on Elk Avenue and serve a purpose by giving tourists a chance to orient themselves to the town’s main business area.
“There is something charming about seeing the painted buses coming up Elk,” said councilman Chris Ladoulis. “Especially the last bus of the winter season. They are a part of the community. To put in a utilitarian route wouldn’t be adding to that.”
Yerman said that route wouldn’t be considered until Sixth Street Station was built and that would be at least five or ten years. “But when you add in big, new commercial development and new houses for the workers of town, you have to rethink some things.”
Berkshire made his argument that the transportation plan recommendations all seemed to cater to cars. “I don’t get in my car all the time and I expect the guests who come here to also walk and ride bikes,” he said. “Not always, but most of the time. We don’t need more cars. We need to be different and unique. If we hold the line, they’ll come around. I don’t like to just accommodate more vehicles. We’re a small town of only ten square blocks.”
Yerman touched on the need for more parking since the town was already short of spaces in the commercial district. He said a basic concrete parking structure by the Visitor’s Center would cost between $6 million and $7 million. “It’s expensive and ugly and has just so many bad things with it,” he said. “We could expand and improve the current lot for a lot less.”
Yerman said current parking-in-lieu fees for town stand at about $13,000 per space. The actual cost of a space is closer to about $29,000, he said. “Vail charges $24,000, Breckenridge charges $19,000 and Telluride is pulling in $39,000 per space. We’ve obtained some good parking lots like First and Elk with parking-in-lieu money but maybe the council should consider raising the fees to closer to actual costs.”
Snow storage, trails and sidewalks all come into play with the future transportation plan.
“You can see how all this stuff interconnects,” town manager Todd Crossett told the council.
“The next step is to get priorities from the council,” said Yerman. “And the rubber will hit the road with the costs. The 1 percent sales tax pays for Mountain Express and it works great. The town has a property tax that brings in about $640,000 a year and it could be raised but we have to be careful because that really hits the local businesses. The town could bond for a major project and that would require a vote of the people.”
Berkshire asked the staff to look into the feasibility of a vehicle registration fee to raise some extra dollars.
The council will ponder the idea of stoplights and bridges and round-abouts and share their thoughts with Yerman next month.