Long-term solution sought
Should there be a park and ride near Highway 135 and Cement Creek Road, or a direct bus into Crested Butte South? That’s a question the Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) and other interested stakeholders will discuss during a retreat in February.
During a meeting of the RTA on December 12, Crested Butte South manager Chris Behan said improved bus service was shown as the number one priority residents of the subdivision asked for in a recent survey.
One of the ideas the RTA has been batting around recently to improve bus service to Crested Butte South is building a Park and Ride-style facility near the intersection of Highway 135 and Cement Creek Road. But many respondents to the survey said they preferred having the bus come directly into the subdivision.
It’s approximately one mile from the highway to the entrance of Crested Butte South and another mile after that to many of the houses.
“Is a Park and Ride the best long-term solution? I’d say probably not. Is it the best short-term, probably,” Behan said. “Somewhere down the road, logically, a bus probably needs to come into Crested Butte South.”
The cost for a dedicated bus running between Crested Butte South and the town of Crested Butte would be about $360,000 a year to operate, Behan said, and that doesn’t include the capital cost for buses.
Crested Butte South Property Owners Association president Al Smith confirmed bus service was a priority.
“On the street what I’m hearing is mostly about the buses,” Smith said. His response to passersby is, “We don’t have the answer yet, except it’s on the horizon. We’re working on it.”
Smith said he was interested in the idea of a Park and Ride near the highway in the short term. “A Park and Ride is more viable than coming up with $360,000 for a regular bus,” he said.
Behan said the only advantage of building a Park and Ride would be it could be done sooner than starting up a dedicated bus service. But finding land to do it was another question. Behan said he thought the land currently for sale on the Niccoli Parcel was off-limits due to a conservation easement that prohibits vehicle parking areas. “The Niccoli parking, from what we’ve been told, is pretty much off the table,” Behan said.
RTA board member Skip Berkshire said he felt a parking area at the intersection could be well shielded from view, but questioned whether it would have an adverse effect on the surrounding area by encouraging a convenience store or other commercial development to pop up nearby. “Do you plant the seeds for encroaching commercial development?” Berkshire asked.
“I think we have to really scrub all the nuances very thoroughly and look to the long term,” he continued. “I’m adverse to a short-term, patch deal. I’d rather work on a good long-term solution. We should find a way to do it, do it right, and be done with it. I’d like to see the RTA board take a position right now.”
Truex said the local governments had just spent a considerable amount of money on an updated transportation plan for the Gunnison Valley that indicates a Park and Ride near the intersection is the best option. The plan was created by transportation consultants Charlier and Associates and was released just prior to the RTA meeting.
According to the 2008 Gunnison Valley Transportation Plan, “Providing park-and-ride service at the re-aligned intersection of Cement Creek Road and [State Highway] 135 would be the most cost-efficient way to serve this unique area in the short-term…
“Providing service to a centralized point within the [subdivision] would be difficult because it would burden regional bus operations (which would have to divert off the highway, adding significant time to a tight route schedule), still be inaccessible to large numbers of residents, and would require construction of a parking lot large enough to hold park-and-ride vehicles without consuming parking for local businesses and residents.”
The plan continues, “Also important is the ‘time-efficiency’ perception of the potential rider… Once a driver parks and exits a personal vehicle, the perception of time spent waiting for the bus and completing the trip on the bus is significantly longer than reality. Accordingly, transferring from car to bus at the point where the remaining bus trip is direct and short incentivizes ridership much more than transferring within the neighborhood where the remaining bus trip is longer, slower, and less direct (by having to leave the neighborhood and return to the highway to then complete the trip).”
Behan said whatever solution they choose, it was important to keep in mind the intersection will eventually have to be realigned to improve traffic flow and safety.
RTA board member Jim Starr said in his conversations with the county Public Works Department and the Colorado State Patrol the realignment of the intersection may not happen anytime soon. Even with the traffic flow today, Starr said, the State Patrol indicated there aren’t very many accidents.
“Realigning Cement Creek is realistically not going to happen for another five years,” Starr said.
David Baxter, who lives above Crested Butte South, was at the meeting to support a direct bus into the subdivision. “I think it’s a big mistake to talk about a Park and Ride at that intersection,” he said. “I’m here to argue for basically taking that bus and coming into Crested Butte South.”
Baxter said a Park and Ride at the intersection wouldn’t be effective because once people are in their cars they would likely just drive to their final destination. “Nobody is going to stop and park their car in a lot at that intersection,” he said.
Baxter said the current argument against bringing the bus down the road into the subdivision is “It’s going to add time and destroy the existing route.” Baxter acknowledged the extra 15 minutes could make the bus less appealing to travelers, but he didn’t think that would end up being the case. “I think you would gain ridership right now. I don’t think you would lose ridership to Gunnison,” he said.
He encouraged the bus stop in the commercial district. “There are acres and acres of available space. There are hundreds of people within easy walking distance. There is a lot of activity. It’s a safe place to stop. There’s a post office, you can get food or liquor, or you can go get a cup of coffee,” he said.
Board member Hap Channell liked the idea and suggested using a mixed schedule service. “Should we contemplate an express bus versus a multiple stop bus? Maybe we charge a fare on the express bus that doesn’t make any stops between Gunnison and Crested Butte… But then have some routes that are the ones that make multiple stops. If people got on a bus and knew that was the case and it fit their needs, then fine,” Channell said.
“I agree with Skip. We need long-range plans,” he continued. “If ultimately the best way to serve Crested Butte South is with buses that pull in, then I don’t see a Park and Ride as a temporary solution. We ought to put all of our marbles into the ultimate goal.”
Behan said changing the bus schedule would defeat the original need for a Park and Ride at the intersection. “The Park and Ride evolved, I believe, because of the inability to deviate from the RTA schedule,” Behan said.
The RTA board agreed that improving bus service to Crested Butte South would be a major point of discussion at their upcoming retreat. “I think everyone agrees it’s a very important issue,” Starr said.
Stakeholders in the RTA’s various doings—such as CBMR, Western State College, the county and municipal governments—and representatives from Crested Butte South may be invited to discuss long term plans.
The RTA retreat will be February 12.