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Proposed sidewalk project causes angst for neighbors

Review how it works in a year

by Mark Reaman

Belleview Avenue neighbors living near a proposed sidewalk to be built this month that would be part of the “Safe Route to School” came to the August 7 Crested Butte Town Council meeting to voice concerns over the project. The sidewalk’s bringing young students past several multi-family complexes raised concerns, since drivers might not see frolicking children in a congested area.

Mary Larsen read a letter from citizen Jamie Booth raising the safety issue. “False security is my main concern,” Booth wrote. “I don’t believe it is a safe route to school and I ask the council to consider a different safe route to the school.”

“Mike and I agree with that,” Larsen said. “Our block is an R-2 block so there is a lot of density. Cars would be parking over the sidewalk and it is crowded, so sometimes it is hard to see. It’s not safe. The vehicles are condensed up against the buildings so you won’t always be able to see the kids until you are backed out on the sidewalk. Was there a traffic study to determine this is the best option?”

Booth’s letter to the council touched on the numbers in the neighborhood. “There are 15 residences along the southern side of Belleview Avenue, nine of which house full-time owners/renters and six of whom see heavy use as short-term renters or second homes,” she wrote. “Parking is already maxed out in this area and traffic is heavy with people coming to and from work, etc. in the morning and afternoon… I have witnessed the 30-minute chaos that ensues before and after school each day… No matter how careful a motorist is, kids have the tendency to be wily, sporadic, and random in their actions—whether on foot, bike or skateboard. This behavior increases, in my opinion, when on a sidewalk because there is an inherent feeling of safety when on a designated walkway.”

Neighbor Candace Coen said even if the decision had been made with the best of intentions, it was not the best alternative. She said she felt the new sidewalk and attempt to direct kids away from the most congested intersection of Seventh Street and Red Lady Avenue was a response to the council abandoning the idea of a roundabout in the location. She asked that a feasibility study be done to see how the sidewalk would tie in with future phases of the safe routes. “I would probably benefit the most through the town clearing the snow but I still think it is a bad idea, given the safety concerns,” she noted.

Shannon Morgan, who owns a unit in a four-plex, echoed the concerns. “If the sidewalk goes in the parking issues will be big, especially with some of the short-term rentals in the area. I wish we could do a better a study to see if there is an alternative approach.”

Shannon Renick said having children cross essentially more than a dozen driveways in the block is not safe. “Having young children crossing three streets and this many driveways just doesn’t make sense,” she told the council. “I feel this is a Band-Aid. I think it needs to be reconsidered and real tests and studies done.”

Crested Butte Community School elementary principal Sally Hensley responded that the Seventh and Red Lady Avenue intersection had gotten more dangerous at the beginning and end of the school day as hundreds of people drive through the convoluted intersection to drop off students. “We are in a really hard situation and everyone knows it,” she said. “One thing our traffic engineer told us when looking at the area is that that intersection gets a ‘C’ rating without any pedestrians. It fails as soon as a pedestrian enters it.”

Hensley said with another increase in students expected this year the congestion would not be decreasing. “It’s a tough situation and we are open to suggestions but we have been told by a lot of people how bad that intersection is.”

“When the council abandoned the roundabout discussion in January we looked at alternatives to get the kids to school,” explained town manager Dara MacDonald. “I haven’t seen the final results of the school study. But there is no great solution to this problem and Belleview seemed the best of the bad options. We’ve had the school, the public works department, the marshal’s office all involved. It’s the best solution we could find and we are prepared to move ahead with it.”

Councilman Chris Haver agreed there was no easy and obvious solution. “There is no completely safe route to school,” he commented.

Citizen Susan Kerns said her kids had grown up in that area, walking to school in the 1990s. “Pedestrian safety is foremost and I urge everyone to keep looking for solutions but I felt the access down Belleview 20 years ago was a good idea.”

“It is also the shortest alternative out there,” added chief marshal Mike Reily.

The council took up the issue several hours later in the meeting and backed the staff.

“We’re all interested in the safety of the children,” stated mayor Jim Schmidt.

“I have concerns given it’s not a single-family block so there are a lot of people living there,” said councilwoman Laura Mitchell. “But I’m not sure what another option is.”

“My take is that it is hard to speculate about different options,” said Schmidt. “After a year, a review of how it worked might be optimum. If it is an experiment, it is worth trying.”

“I think we all feel and appreciate the concern for Belleview,” said councilman Will Dujardin. “But I have to defer to the staff. If not Belleview, where? I live in a similar dense situation so I understand your concerns but I don’t know how we do something else better. It makes sense geographically.”

“That side of the street is more dense than the other,” said councilman Paul Merck. “It is up to the drivers to be safe when backing up but I agree kids play around and it is tricky.”

“Looking at the map, it is the most sensible route,” said public works director Rodney Due.

“It might not seem like it to the neighbors but we are in the area a lot and Belleview is not a major thoroughfare,” said Reily. “Traffic is really heavy on Seventh and Eighth Streets. Belleview is the most logical route, looking at a map. It’s not a high traffic area. Belleview makes the most sense for a sidewalk.”

Renick reiterated that while the map might make sense, it was the multi-family density that caused the problem.

MacDonald said prep work for the sidewalk will begin August 15 with concrete expected to be laid down on August 20. It will be cured and ready for the start of school on August 27.

MacDonald said she and Due would be happy to meet with the neighbors to discuss the implementation of the plan.

Schmidt reiterated he was looking at the project as an experiment that could be reviewed and changed.

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