Town soliciting feedback on Elk Avenue reconfiguration idea

Taking a field trip to core of town

By Mark Reaman

The town of Crested Butte is continuing its effort to determine if Elk Avenue can be reconfigured to allow for more seating and display space for local restaurants and stores, while at the same time alleviating concerns expressed by the businesses most impacted by the idea.

Town staff and council members spent much of Wednesday meeting with scores of business representatives in front of their establishments, with a chalked-out lane of one-way traffic running down the middle of Elk. Town planners were gathering positive and negative feedback from businesses on what such an alignment might do for the businesses in the core of town. Council will discuss the feedback from the field trip at its next meeting on June 1.

The council initially brought up the idea not to close Elk Avenue to create a new, pedestrian mall with a festive atmosphere, but instead to try to allow businesses to utilize public right of way to expand their offerings during the ongoing social distancing requirements in place over the COVID-19 crisis.

Town has made clear that any reconfiguration would be temporary.

Mayor Jim Schmidt said he had received several emails from Elk Avenue restaurants adamantly against reducing any traffic or parking on Elk Avenue, concerned that many of their customers will not walk to their businesses and thus they will actually be hurt by the reconfiguration instead of helped.

Crested Butte Community Development director Troy Russ said thus far 14 businesses had applied to the town about utilizing the pavers in front of their stores to expand their client potential. He expected most if not all to be approved this week.

“A lot of towns across the state and country are looking at similar concepts, given public health orders for social distancing,” said town planner Mel Yemma at the May 18 council meeting. “The governor is encouraging municipalities to look into this type of idea to help support local business.”

“Getting out there to look at it one block at a time and listen to concerns on the ground allows us to really see what it would mean,” added Russ.

“It’s a great idea to get out and see it physically,” agreed council member Mona Merrill.

Schmidt has never been a fan of the idea but suggested if parking was significantly impacted, the town might consider buying electric carts to shuttle between the Four-way Stop and Crested Butte Community School parking lots to Elk Avenue.

Council member Laura Mitchell, who also chairs the Mountain Express board, said bus drivers want to make sure people wouldn’t be wandering into the drive lane.

“The one-way lane would be delineated,” said Yemma. “Safety is really important.

Russ said flower boxes would help separate the expanded pedestrian area from the traffic lane, which would be 12 feet wide with a two-foot shoulder on each side.

Council member Chris Haver said talking to businesses was important since “No one knows business like the businesses.” He said as a councilman he would be listening for the business owner input but also wanted constructive ideas and not just opinion.

Council member Will Dujardin said since some “major Elk Avenue players” were not on board with the idea, enhanced communication was important. “I also think it will be important to reference our parking management plan and how it could work with this idea,” he said.

Council will move closer toward a decision on the idea June 1 once they analyze the feedback from Wednesday’s field trip.

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