Crested Butte transportation planning rolls down the road well traveled

Closing Elk not a priority

The Crested Butte transportation planning process is moving ahead and it appears no major changes to infrastructure are in store anytime soon. A group of about 20 people attended the latest meeting on September 25. The meeting was led by town planner Michael Yerman and focused on parking and some traffic flow issues. Yerman concluded that some cultural changes might be likely in the near future, as opposed to expensive infrastructure additions.



For the most part, the group agreed that things worked pretty well at the moment, but they were told it would get busier over the next decade and the Red Lady–Highway 135 intersection along with the Four-Way Stop would probably need some improvements.
Traffic study consultants Ted Ritschard and Dennis Burns presented an overview of their findings from the past summer. They conducted a traffic count from Thursday, July 31 to Saturday, August 2. While that was during one of the busiest weekends of the summer (the Arts Festival weekend), the consultants claimed they were able to extrapolate legitimate numbers for the summer.
On that particular weekend the numbers showed more than 10,000 cars a day were counted coming through town on Highway 135 at the Red Lady Avenue intersection. Using the entrance to Crested Butte as an example, 5,072 vehicles were counted entering town from the south on Thursday, July 31. Just 4,993 were counted leaving town the same day. On the Friday of the Arts Festival, 5,480 vehicles were counted entering Crested Butte, while 5,033 were counted leaving.
The projections for 2035 anticipate close to 7,000 vehicles coming into town on a similar Friday and 6,392 leaving, so the overall traffic volume would tally about 13,352 cars and trucks using that intersection.
Ritschard told the group that the most difficult traffic flow scenario in town was when a vehicle was trying to enter Highway 135 from Red Lady Avenue and turn south. “Most of the other intersections function fine,” he said. “That’s the one place that might need an investment. The roadways handle the traffic and the projected traffic pretty well.”
Without recommending anything formally, Ritschard explained how a roundabout could function in the location. “They are a good solution for people who don’t like to stop,” he said. “There are definitely snowplowing issues but it can be a gateway aesthetic.”
A quicker, easier fix according to Ritschard might be the addition of formal turn lanes at the intersection.
He said based on projections the tipping point for a needed change at the intersection would be about the year 2022. The Four-way Stop might be in the same boat.
Burns made a presentation to the group showing that parking could be “an economic development platform” and need not be ugly. He used examples from much larger communities but showed how some areas were using parking to attract people. He also pointed out that cities that charge for parking count on the revenues and can use that money for many different things, including landscaping and free Wi-Fi.
The group then reviewed a list of possible improvements in various sections of Crested Butte and checked off potential changes.
The most common suggested improvement was to enforce two-hour parking restrictions along Elk Avenue. Better parking management in that area along with transportation alternatives to cut down on the number of vehicles coming into the center of town were also mentioned. Even more bike parking throughout town was also a popular idea. If there is eventually to be a parking structure, most people envision it at the Four-way Stop.
While the participants seemed okay with extending sidewalks around Crested Butte, not many were in favor of closing off Elk Avenue into a permanent (or even seasonal) mall. The group felt closing it for special events was good but beyond that, there was not much support. There was a bit more support about making Elk Avenue one-way to vehicles for a few blocks.
“Functionally, Elk Avenue works as a two-way,” said Yerman. “Closing it off would push traffic to the side streets. No matter what, we need to be looking at ways to relieve congestion that is growing.”
Yerman was asked to look at the idea of closing off Third between Elk and the Sopris Avenue alley. The idea was to create a park-like area downtown.
Yerman explained that the transportation plan was being conducted since the last formal plan was done in 1998 and things had certainly changed since then. “We want to maintain the sense of community we enjoy with the transportation system,” he said. “This will help prioritize projects and ultimately town budgets.”
He said that while this was a town-focused plan, regional influences like Western State Colorado University, the airport, Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte South all had impacts in town.
The next planning meeting in the public process will be held in late October.

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