It isn’t going away…
by Mark Reaman
Anyone who has been near any street in Crested Butte this summer knows traffic is busy and becoming an issue for pedestrians and fellow drivers. We talked with Crested Butte chief marshal Mike Reily about the town’s traffic situation.
News: Are we seeing a significant increase in traffic this summer in general and anywhere in particular?
Mike Reily: I think the amount of traffic we are seeing is the new normal for Crested Butte. There are peak times, mostly in the morning and evening, when traffic gets backed up at intersections and people jockey for the available parking. The Marshal’s Office is working with the town planning department and other stakeholders to come up with some solutions to these problems. For the most part, our traffic is no worse than getting stuck in a cattle drive, just not as quaint. We ask everyone to show a little patience, take the bus, ride a bike, walk and wave with your whole hand. None of us come to Crested Butte to get stressed out, so relax and enjoy the scenery. It is still faster to drive through town at 10 or 15mph, stopping for all of the signs, than it is to drive the same distance in the big city during rush hour!
News: Have there been any accidents or injuries this summer?
Mike Reily: In town, we have been lucky [knocking on wood] and not had any serious crashes. The slow speed limit, which people generally abide by, and pedestrian nature of town have much to do with this. We have had our fair share of parking bump-type accidents, which reflects the congestion we are experiencing.
News: What seem to be the main problems? Parking? People running stop signs?
Mike Reily: Parking seems to be the biggest problem, especially since it seems to exacerbate the other problems. People parking too close to corners limits the view for turning drivers, blocks stop signs and shields crosswalks. Many times the suddenly appearing pedestrian, stop sign runner and intersection confusion originate from a poorly parked car. Additionally, we have problems with people parking in the roadway, blocking driveways and blocking crosswalks, which certainly doesn’t help the situation.
News: Is it strictly a tourist/visitor issue or are locals also adding to the problem?
Mike Reily: It is my impression that everyone has an equal hand in the traffic and speeding problem.
The locals know better and feel entitled to speed and cruise through signed intersections, whereas the visitors have a bit of an excuse when coming to an unfamiliar town with an odd speed limit. Either way, it is the same result and we could all drive a little more cautiously.
News: When is the peak traffic problem?
Mike Reily: The peak flow in and out of town seems to coincide with the morning and evening commute. When the local work trucks seem to come equipped with bikes and kayaks it’s hard to tell if people are recreating or working but the getting-there traffic is probably a little worse than the coming-back traffic.
News: Where is the peak traffic problem?
Mike Reily: As a single-lane, main artery through the north end of the valley, Highway 135/Sixth Street/Gothic Road gets the worst congestion.
News: Has the Marshal’s Office considered staking out and ticketing people at the problem intersections? I would guess that would be places like Gothic and Sixth?
Mike Reily: Our officers are very good at analyzing where the problem locations are and when they will experience an issue. Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough of us to go around when there are this many people in town. All of our vehicles are equipped with radar and there are several radar speed signs throughout town, so getting a true read on the speed of vehicles is not an issue. For those who ignore the signs, we issue far more warnings than tickets, as tickets aren’t necessarily the answer. Gaining compliance is the goal. We use a combination of high-visibility patrol (marked units in an obvious problem location) and stealthy observation (hiding that marked unit to watch a problem location) to monitor locations where we know we have issues. That type of patrol solves a majority of the difficulties and we have conversations with the rest to ensure compliance.
News: Has the office considered putting a traffic cop at the Four-way Stop, say, during the super-busy times of 4 to 6 p.m.?
Mike Reily: We just do not have enough officers to devote to that type of activity. From a theoretical standpoint, we could put two officers at the Four-way (it takes two to safely work that intersection) and pull traffic like we do for some special events. However, very quickly the intersections north and south of the Four-way get clogged and limit the practical flow. To do any good, another two officers would be needed to control Sixth/Gothic and Sixth/Belleview, making traffic the traffic cop solution impractical. Just like the fire department doesn’t routinely rescue cats from trees, we don’t rescue drivers from having to wait in a line of cars queued up for a few intersections. Eventually, the cat comes down and eventually, the traffic subsides.
The town council has formed a working committee to look at one element of the traffic situation – parking on Elk Avenue. Four citizens were appointed to serve including Kim Raines, Kathy Joyce, Chris Myall and Todd Carroll. Good luck.