CB council is open to idea of seasonal one-way Elk Avenue

Taking time this winter to gather information and feedback

[ by Mark Reaman ]

While not yet ready to make a commitment to return Elk Avenue to a one-way street next summer, the Crested Butte Town Council agreed to further look into the possibility and gather more public feedback on the idea, whether or not the community is still under coronavirus restrictions in June 2021.

The town’s Community Development department wanted guidance from the council since many businesses had suggested continuing with the reconfiguration, given what they saw as a success this past summer.

The council and staff want to further dive into the pros and cons of using the one-way Elk Avenue template every summer. They will spend the next several months talking to the local businesses, nearby neighborhoods impacted by traffic, special event coordinators and the community in general. The idea is to make a decision in March 2021; if the decision is to proceed, then one-way Elk Avenue would start in June.

Town planner Mel Yemma said the town had surveyed local businesses three times about the reconfiguration, with the latest taking place in late October. Of the 40 responses from the latest survey, 75 percent indicated interest in making the street one-way every summer. The remaining 25 percent said they were not interested in it at all.

The move last summer took away 58 parking spaces, as 24 restaurant seating areas and five retail areas moved into the public right of way. Feedback indicated a majority of businesses on or near Elk Avenue felt the move helped their business.

Probably the biggest detriments cited were the look of the town’s primary business core; some respondents said it felt festive while others said it looked “junky.” Increased parking and traffic flow on Sopris and Maroon Avenues was a negative impact, as was the feeling that some businesses had more public space allotted them while others felt treated unfairly. Bike riders not adhering to the one-way traffic flow was also a concern.

Crested Butte Community Development director Troy Russ said the department would gather data on parking and safety issues to help council make a final decision. He said last summer there were several times parking was at or over capacity on Elk Avenue but normally spaces were available. Traffic saw an uptick on the nearby side streets as cars could not return eastbound on Elk Avenue.

Town finance director Rob Zillioux said the original intent was to help businesses increase capacity under COVID-19 restrictions and it worked for the most part. His analysis concluded that summer sales tax revenue was impacted favorably as a result of the move.

“I really liked it last summer for a number of reasons,” said council member Mallika Magner. “I thought it was festive. I enjoyed having it one-way. I did hear feedback from people living on Sopris and Maroon about traffic and that would need to be addressed. I don’t have an opinion yet on whether to go forward with it again in the future.”

“I really appreciated the process to get there,” said council member Chris Haver. “The staff and business collaboration was great and it made the best of a bad situation. I am most proud of that. I’m 100 percent behind continuing it with COVID but not sure of a regular seasonal change every summer. It does seem to benefit some businesses more than others and it impacts the nearby neighborhoods. I could go either way so I appreciate we’re taking the time to analyze it.”

“I think it worth continuing to pursue the discussion. I feel we should continue to engage the businesses and the community because it worked,” said council member Mona Merrill. “Since we’re talking about the future, should part of the discussion be about an eventual pedestrian mall there? I don’t have an opinion on the direction yet.”

“I think it went well last summer, especially given how quickly it came together,” said council member Laura Mitchell. “I have no opinion yet but let’s see where we are with COVID next summer. The benches belong in the park, not Elk Avenue. Let’s see what the community has to say.”

“It’s okay to have an opinion. It seemed liked it worked,” said council member Will Dujardin. “People were generally positive about it. I never heard much negative feedback about the one-way. I do want to try to understand the negative reaction from the 20 or 25 percent of people surveyed.”

“I too don’t understand why some people hate it so much,” agreed mayor Jim Schmidt. “I didn’t get any negative comments from the tourists I drove up on Alpine Express.

Bicyclists going the wrong way down Elk was an issue. If we do it again this coming summer there would be the opportunity to make it look nicer. I was skeptical about doing it at the beginning but I think it really worked. Some people jumped in and made it a success and it went well. Others complained about the rules. Maybe with more time to consider it, everyone will figure it out better. Right now, I feel good about how it worked and am leaning toward doing it again.”

Russ said the next step for staff was to gather more information to give council the tools to make a good decision. He said staff would compile more traffic counts, safety information and implications for ADA regulations.

Resident Paul Mack said he lived on Maroon and understood the increase in traffic as a result of the reconfiguration. “The numbers are what they are but the speeds of the vehicles really increased,” he told the council. “It got to be extremely excessive at times. Maybe there needs to be temporary speed bumps.”

“The aesthetics were a common concern so we can consider a better design,” Russ said. “Would that be a uniform look, or again, more individual with different businesses? What are the costs involved to make it nicer and who would be responsible, town or businesses? We also want to talk to people involved with special events and see how that could work when everything is back open.”

Yemma said the town wants a lot of community engagement in the discussion that would start in December and January.

Council gave the thumbs-up to keep gathering information and public input before coming back to them with a proposal later this winter.

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