Council not yet sold on idea of roundabout at entrance of town

Pedestrian safety, costs a factor

By Mark Reaman

Not every Crested Butte town council member is ready to support the idea of roundabout at the Red Lady Avenue and Sixth Street intersection at the entrance to the Crested Butte Community School. During a work session on the ongoing Transportation and Mobility Plan on Wednesday, September 13, three of the six councilmembers in attendance expressed hesitation over the idea.

The work session started with a staff list of so-called “hot topics,” and council dove into the Red Lady intersection. 

“I’m still nervous about traffic circles,” said councilmember Chris Haver. “My experience is that they are not pedestrian friendly. Is it great compared to what we have? Pedestrians are second when it comes to traffic circles and I’ve seen videos showing the danger to pedestrians which I will share with the council. For me, I would like to see a town like ours where they put in traffic circles and see how they work. The other question is how does it get paid for? “

Crested Butte community development director Troy Russ took issue with Haver’s position. “All the data conflicts with you,” he said. “Not all traffic circles are created equal.”

Russ presented data from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) showing that with roundabouts there was a 35% reduction in all accidents, a 78% reduction in fatal injury accidents and an 89% reduction in accidents related to pedestrian injuries. 

“Ultimately the decision on how to address that intersection is a CDOT decision and a change will come with the school expansion project that starts next summer,” said Russ. He said the council could weigh in and possibly influence the CDOT decision, but council will not have the final say. 

A rough estimate is that the roundabout would cost about $3 million. An alternative “High-T” intersection configuration with added and extended turning lanes with barriers would probably cost less but not significantly so. Where the money to pay for the new intersection would come from has not been determined but the school district has indicated it expects to contribute some of the cost. 

“Personally, I’m in favor of the roundabout,” said councilmember Jason MacMillan. “The current situation is untenable. I’ve been in functional roundabouts, and they can be designed to be safe and pedestrian friendly.”

“I have shifted more toward a yes for the roundabout,” said councilmember Beth Goldstone. “But it has to be a pedestrian friendly roundabout.”

“When I think of the issue at Sixth and Red Lady, it’s the cars piling up that is the concern. That’s the safety hazard,” said councilmember Anna Fenerty. “The cars would still pile up with a roundabout.”

“But they move more efficiently,” said Russ. “It slows down the entry speed and has the ability to get cars out without having to wait for someone to let them move through.”

Fenerty said if a stop sign remained at Belleview Avenue and Sixth, there was concern it could clog up the roundabout. 

“Congestion is your destiny no matter what, but we are trying to do it in a way that is safe,” said Russ. “A roundabout is slower and more efficient. There is still traffic but it is safer. Data projections indicate the Belleview traffic buildup won’t impact the roundabout until at least 2045.” 

Town manager Dara MacDonald said that with the school expansion the entrance to the school parking lot will be realigned to better help traffic flow, which should help with congestion issues.

“I too am concerned with the costs,” said Fenerty, while Russ assured her that there was a lot of government money available to address traffic safety.

“I am more with Chris [Haver] at the moment,” said Fenerty. “I need to see proof of their safety. I’m not yet there with the roundabout.”

Councilmember Mallika Magner was also hesitant to support a roundabout. “I have been persuaded by people that we just need to slow everything down,” she said. “This is more than we need. I like the idea of a crossing guard or marshal at that intersection directing traffic, but I am hearing we have no choice?”

“We can try to use council influence but it’s not up to us,” said mayor Ian Billick, who noted that volunteer crossing guards were used to address the traffic issue in that area 20 years ago and things have gotten worse in terms of traffic volume.

“There is a difference between a school crossing guard and a trained marshal directing traffic,” added Goldstone. 

“I want to be convinced a traffic circle is the right solution,” reiterated Haver. 

“Modern day roundabouts are designed to lower speeds for vehicles. The science on how to do that is getting better,” said Russ. “Roundabouts are slower, safer and a gateway opportunity.”

“I think having a better entrance to town is worth considering,” said MacMillan.

“I’m pretty convinced with the roundabout,” said Billick. “Getting more information is good but the CDOT information is there and that is data. The data shows the safety elements so it might be more about communication. Obviously, council is split at the moment so we’re not ready to provide any direction.” 

“There has to be good examples for a similar situation in a town like Crested Butte for us to see out there. I’d like to see that,” said Haver.

Russ said staff would find such an example. He said the school district’s traffic consultant would probably take three or four months to provide the minimum improvement recommendation to town staff and council for consideration before the town’s recommendation is submitted to CDOT.

The council is taking input from the citizens on the alternatives before they officially provide any recommendation. 

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