CB School pulls back on traffic mitigation project for 2019

Recommends monitoring, maintenance, sidewalk removal on portion of Red Lady

By Katherine Nettles

After extensive traffic studies, meetings and community involvement, a significant reduction in parking and traffic mitigation measures will occur with the Crested Butte Community School (CBCS) area next summer.

A recent plan to realign the parking lot entrance with Eighth Street has been scrapped and replaced with a more limited project that reseals the parking lot and emphasizes restriping to better help traffic circulation within the lot.

Gunnison Watershed School District superintendent Leslie Nichols recommended to the school board on Monday night that it not proceed with the next phase of its traffic mitigation proposal at CBCS.

Nichols reviewed the problem the school district has been trying to solve, which is reducing traffic congestion on Highway 135 and increasing the safety of students coming to and going from the school among a growing number of motor vehicles and busy intersections.

Nichols also reviewed the comprehensive mitigation plan, which had included three phases. Phase I, implemented in 2018, was to establish a “Safe Route to school” by installing a Belleview Avenue sidewalk and clearly marking it and the sidewalk along Eighth Street with a Titans logo to encourage foot traffic there. The Safe Route aims to get students out of the busy intersection of Red Lady Avenue, Highway 135 and Seventh Street.

Phase II in the plan was to align the school parking lot entrance with Eighth Street, a major alteration costing up to $900,000 that has been the subject of study in the past few months. Nichols said concept plans had been presented by RTA Architects to the school board and then to the Crested Butte council in early December. She met with CBCS bus drivers to gather their input, and she and school board director Tyler Martineau met with CBCS neighbors who were affected by the busy school traffic.

In an effort to assess the changing needs of the school parking lot, Nichols met with traffic engineers from McDowell Engineering on December 21, and conducted a traffic study calibration. The calibration was used to simulate various traffic flows of pedestrian/bike traffic and driving and parking habits during the busiest times of morning drop-off and afternoon pick-ups. The micro simulation offered three layouts: the existing one, the proposed Eighth Street aligned entrance, and a hybrid of the two.

Nichols said based on the information gathered, the studies showed the Safe Routes program has greatly reduced pedestrian and bike traffic at Red Lady Avenue and Highway 135.

“The bottom line of that traffic study that was so exciting was that it has … had a tremendous improvement with keeping students out of that intersection,” Nichols said. She also noted the Safe Route to school effort “has had really strong impacts.”

Furthermore, Nichols said, “Morning traffic is no longer backing up on 135, and the existing lot works.” Her conclusion was that Phase I had been effective and further efforts could be minimal.

Crested Butte town manager Dara MacDonald reported this reduction in the scope of the project to the Crested Butte Town Council this week, and also discussed the traffic analysis. She said the engineers feel there is not much difference in the impact between the existing parking lot entrance and the realignment with Eighth Street and the parking lot entrance. Crested Butte has budgeted for contributing up to $100,000 to any mitigation solution the school board approves.

Nichols recommended that some fairly routine maintenance such as seal coating and re-striping the parking lot be completed in the summer of 2019, as well as requesting that the town of Crested Butte remove the sidewalk on the south side of Red Lady at its intersection with Seventh Street to further discourage foot traffic from that route.

Last, Nichols noted that as the school’s student body grows, an eventual expansion would lead to other major changes. The traffic calibration studies conducted in December also simulated predicted traffic and parking patterns with the 2040 projected growth of the school to expand from 750 students to 1,000. “With the growth of the school campus, it will trigger a CDOT [Colorado Department of Transportation] permit,” she said.

MacDonald echoed during the council meeting that the primary congestion point to be addressed is the intersection of Highway 135 and Red Lady Avenue.

“My understanding is that when the school officially decides to expand, it will trigger the CDOT process that requires an improvement to the intersection of Highway 135 and Red Lady Avenue,” MacDonald said.

The response from the community members at the school board meeting was fairly receptive.

Mary Haskell asked about the former drop-off area, which is currently blocked off and being used as an extension to the playground. She said she has seen cars still pulling in there and dropping off students, and said the parking lot is equally dangerous to the Red Lady Avenue intersection.

Nichols said the school intends to re-stripe the lot, label ADA spaces better, and crack down on bad habits that some parents have formed—including a tendency to pull in facing east rather than parking or simply dropping off in the lineup. “We have found that cars behave very poorly in the zones to either side of that,” Nichols said.

Martha Gable, who lives across the street from the school, spoke about her relief that the school is not considering taking out lights and trees to make room for a new parking lot entrance. She said she was also happy to hear they were not going to take out the sidewalk by the playground adjacent to the parking lot.

Martineau addressed Gable and the others who had met with he and Nichols. “You live there and you see what goes on. We appreciate the insight that was provided,” he said.

Fred Garing, Gables’ husband, spoke of people crossing the road in front of cars, and cars parking in front of the houses. “I appreciate that there is still some effort to study traffic mitigation,” he said. “I think that is further along, maybe Step 2A that we need to look at. “

Krista Hildebrandt also thanked the board members for spending the day with them. “I encourage you to work with the town of Crested Butte on the Seventh Street intersection. Make it safe for all parents who want to drive to have an efficient and safe way to use the parking lot… You guys have done such an amazing job with the Safe Route,” she said, and encouraged more public service announcements to keep parents using the intersection as intended.

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