It will basically look like last summer
[ By Mark Reaman ]
Elk Avenue will again be reconfigured this summer to allow only one-way traffic heading west along with permitting outside seating in the street but the Crested Butte town council in a split vote on Monday decided not to spend the money to buy patios for the local restaurants. Instead, so-called parklets will be allowed giving the town’s main thoroughfare pretty much the same feel as last summer.
Council debated the merits of going with the more uniform patio arrangement but the majority of council representatives did not feel ready to make a major investment that could commit the town to a long-term seasonal plan. Instead, the council will study the one-way configuration in what is expected to be a busy summer with few if any COVID-19 health restrictions.
The town had received three bids for Elk Avenue patios with the local duo of Ben Diem and Tucker Roberts getting the favorable nod. Because the town had been awarded a $150,000 state grant to help with the street change, the town would have had to come up with $347,000 but council decided against that alternative.
With the basic reconfiguration approved for 2021, another $34,000 will be allocated for traffic calming measures on the nearby side streets of Maroon, Sopris and Whiterock Avenues with the idea that eastbound traffic would increase on those streets since Elk would not allow that direction. It’s expected that Whiterock will also be impacted with more traffic from vehicles using Kebler Pass Road to go around the Highway 50 closures associated with the Little Blue Canyon road project.
“I like the idea of the one-way but the feedback I’ve gotten is that it pushes too much traffic to the surrounding neighborhoods,” said councilwoman Laura Mitchell. “There are also concerns about why the town is spending $500,000 on individual businesses.”
“I too have heard that most people are in favor of the one-way but people have told me they want to do the comprehensive planning of a “Community Compass” before committing to a long-term change,” said councilwoman Mona Merrill. “So I like the one-way with the parklets instead of the patios. Let’s see what it is like without a pandemic since we are making this decision basically in perpetuity.”
“I am in favor of the patios over the parklets for safety reasons,” said councilman Jason MacMillan. “I am also in favor of traffic calming measures in the nearby neighborhoods but wonder if (the eastbound traffic) could be pushed over to Belleview. That seems like a good option.”
“I am a bit challenged to drop a big financial commitment of $500,000 for patios which I see as a ‘want’ more than a ‘need,’” said councilman Chris Haver. “It is a long-term change and is still relatively new in my head. I don’t think it has been hammered out yet to a great idea. I think people are comfortable sitting outside so I could be in favor of the parklets for this summer. A big problem I have is that it isn’t bike friendly. I really would like two-way bike traffic to be allowed.”
Community development director Troy Russ explained that because of fire codes and spacing, two bike lanes could not be squeezed into the plan. The problem was that with parking on both sides of the street, dealing with bikers heading against the traffic flow presented a major liability.
Councilwoman Mallika Magner agreed it would be ideal if bike lanes could be included. “So many people told me how much they enjoyed being on Elk Avenue last summer. I also heard about the negative impacts to the side streets. We have to mitigate those issues.” Magner suggested that a 10-mile-per-hour speed limit not just be implemented on Elk but also on Sopris and Maroon.
Councilman Will Dujardin said he felt a lot of people were in favor of the summer reconfiguration but he was hesitant to spend the money on patios. He also said traffic calming measures should be part of a larger, more comprehensive traffic and parking plan for the town. “We are delaying the inevitable conversation if we wait until we are conducting the Community Compass. It is busy in the town all the time now. The side streets are always impacted,” he said.
“In that regard, I’m in favor of parking permits,” said MacMillan. “I’m not sure how far out you go but we might as well tackle it now.”
Magner and Haver also agreed a comprehensive traffic and parking discussion should not be put on hold.
Mayor Jim Schmidt said he thought the one-way plan worked great last year. “It made town more fun than it usually is,” he said. “It vitalizes downtown. I thought dining outside was a very pleasant experience. I favor the patios because of the safety element of having a railing instead of a rope to keep kids from running in the street. I think they would look better as well. But they would still allow individual businesses to be themselves. I think the ease of ADA access with patios is also important. As for the money, the town is in good financial shape so I don’t think this obligates us to having to use them more than one year if for some reason it doesn’t work and we don’t like them.”
The only verbal public comment on Monday came from citizen Kent Cowherd who suggested the town allow 8-foot-wide parklets for street seating but allow two-way vehicle traffic. “The vehicles using Kebler to avoid the Little Blue Canyon road work might want to swing down Elk from Whiterock this summer and stay for lunch,” he suggested. “If the one-way is a good idea now it will still be a good idea in a year. I do think the two-hour parking restrictions should be enforced.”
Merrill reminded the council that originally the one-way was implemented to help businesses find more capacity due to COVID-19 health orders prohibiting the regular number of people allowed inside a business. “This is being done to give additional capacity and improve the ambiance of town,” she said.
“From our meetings, the community felt the change enhanced the pedestrian experience,” said Russ.
“There was a lot of discussion about this,” emphasized Magner. “The staff and some of us spent many, many hours talking to community members about it. The opportunity was there for people to participate in the discussion.”
In an initial vote about making Elk Avenue one-way this summer, council voted 5-2 in favor with council representatives Mitchell and Merrill voting against. The discussion then delved deeper into whether to allow parklets like last year or spend the money on the patios for this summer.
MacMillan again emphasized safety and ADA benefits while noting the state grant brought down the cost to the town.
“The problem is the cost,” countered Dujardin. “I appreciate the safety and ADA issues but we are expanding business capacity when there is an affordable housing issue and it is already hard to find enough employees. Businesses have a hard time getting workers as it is and now they’ll need more. I struggle with the balance and would rather see us spend that money on housing.”
“That’s why I would rather see the Compass completed first,” said Merrill. “I don’t want to make a decision that lasts 10 years.”
“Again, this is a want and not a need,” said Haver. “Housing is a need. I like the parklets.”
Council voted 4-3 to not award a bid to purchase the patios. Haver, Dujardin, Merrill and Mitchell voted to forgo patios for parklets. In the end, everyone on council except MacMillan voted for a 2021 Elk Avenue that heads one-way to the west. Traffic calming devices will be installed on Sopris, Maroon and Whiterock Avenues and council will also soon consider a 10 mph speed limit on Sopris and Maroon.
Basically, starting June 15, Elk Avenue will begin to look the same as it did last summer.