Cater to pedestrians instead of vehicles
It became clear during a Monday work session about transportation plan priorities and financing that the Crested Butte Town Council is not impressed with some of the recommendations emerging in the town transportation plan.
The council made it plain to stop talking about a potential stoplight at the Four-way Stop at Sixth and Elk Avenue. Even more surprising, the council told town planner Michael Yerman that a major overhaul of the Red Lady and Highway 135 intersection was probably not needed.
There was little enthusiasm for either new turning lanes or a round-about in that location despite some cited safety concerns. Instead, the council members asked Yerman to go back to the drawing board and find solutions that catered to pedestrians and bikers and focus on Seventh and Red Lady instead of the highway and Red Lady.
“I have to say I’m bitterly disappointed in the consultant we hired to look at the transportation in town,” said Councilman Jim Schmidt. “He did a crappy job. He’s the only guy I’ve ever heard say that round-abouts are good for pedestrians. I know traffic circles work well for getting cars through an area but they don’t work well with pedestrians.”
“I agree that if that is done at Red Lady, a major goal would be to get the pedestrians and kids away from that intersection,” said Yerman.
Schmidt said the proposed turn lanes wouldn’t solve the major congestion issue of vehicles trying to turn south onto the highway from Red Lady during the busy school hours. Councilman Chris Ladoulis said he too didn’t see much net improvement with turn lanes. His concern was for southbound cars turning onto Red Lady from the highway.
“I am in one of the cars many days and I know it can be frustrating, but perhaps the better idea is to focus on the pedestrians and make those of us in the cars wait,” Ladoulis said. “Maybe it takes a patrolman or crossing guard on the highway when school is starting and ending. That would certainly be cheaper.”
“We are a small town and we can’t afford to solve all the traffic problems,” added Councilman Glenn Michel. “But we can stick to our town values. We are a pedestrian and bike community. We can cater to the pedestrians and make the cars wait.”
“The time in the morning when parents are dropping kids off or picking them up in the afternoon is the closest Crested Butte will come to gridlock and it’s maybe 30 minutes long,” said Councilmember Roland Mason.
“And is that gridlock okay? Maybe more people will use their bikes or walk to school,” said Michel.
“At some point if it gets too bad, the state, which controls the highway, might come in with its own solution,” said Yerman. “So one thing you could do is wait and see what happens and have a solution on file. That might carry weight if the state demands some sort of solution.”
“I don’t like either the turning lanes or round-about there. Is there a third choice?” asked Ladoulis.
Ladoulis suggested making pedestrian walkways in the area more attractive and user-friendly so they would be better utilized. Yerman said that was in the current budget.
“I’m not fond of either proposal but I thought turn lanes might help,” said Councilman Skip Berkshire. “I still don’t understand why so many parents drive their kids to school. There’s plenty of public transportation.”
“Is there something we could do away from Highway 135?” Ladoulis asked. “Do more on Red Lady? The problem might not really be [Highway] 135.”
“The jog in the road on Red Lady is the real issue,” said Mason. “That’s really confusing. The focus should be on improving Red Lady and Seventh.”
“I don’t think we’ve looked at everything,” added Berkshire.
“If we just add turn lanes, I guarantee the state will eventually come in with a stoplight,” said Mason.
Speaking of stoplights, Yerman said he has heard the “resounding no” to the idea of a stoplight at the Four-way Stop. He asked the council to fill out a worksheet with their priorities of the transportation proposals that have floated to the surface through public meetings.
Yerman explained that all the realistic proposals would cost about $4.4 million. But the current Street and Alley mill levy would bring in only about $900,000 over 25 years. His worksheet included costs.
While adding more enforcement to police parking regulations on Elk Avenue would cost about $50,000 per year, a parking structure would check in at $7 million and require a private partner.
A round-about would cost about $1.2 million, while paving the parking lot by the chamber of commerce would cost around $200,000.
Yerman said while the town has the authority to raise that mill levy from the current 8.5 mills to 16 mills, that would be a big burden on property owners, especially those who own commercial property. Raising the mill to 9.5 mills would bring in about $2 million to the town over 25 years.
“The reality is that you can have an awesome plan, but finances come into play so really, look at maybe three or four projects to prioritize,” Yerman told the council.
He also reminded the council that while some repair work is done every year, a major street project is planned for every five years and that work is paid with cash after saving the money. “You could ask the voters to bond for a project,” he pointed out.
Berkshire said he was worried that while other taxing entities such as the school district have run successful tax increase proposals, the town is falling behind. “Others are acting and succeeding and we have a legacy of kind of playing softly,” he said. “The chicken is coming home to roost.”
Council did not seem enthusiastic about additional sidewalks. They liked how pedestrians actually played a role in certain areas of keeping vehicle speeds slow by walking in the streets.
“We need to plan things more in a Crested Butte style,” suggested Schmidt. “Not everything needs an immediate big money solution. One example would be to perhaps try to open the Butte Avenue bridge to one-way traffic. See if it works to relieve some congestion on Elk if people can drive west from that access. Do it cheaply and see if it works.”
Berkshire said there would be unintended ramifications from opening that bridge to vehicle traffic, while Yerman said that would take some investigation and engineering to open.
While expressing some concern over the current transportation proposals, the council will continue to move forward with a list of priorities. Yerman said he would compile the individual council priorities and report back to the board. He will also look at other options for the Red Lady-Highway 135-Seventh Street situation.