CB council reacts to draft transportation mobility plan

Roundabouts, EV chargers, snowmelt and flamethrowers part of discussion

By Mark Reaman

Crested Butte’s draft Transportation Mobility Plan (TMP) continues to evolve and the public can provide feedback on the latest revision until November 30. Staff will then work with the advisory committee to further refine the plan with the goal to bring a final proposal to the council for approval in January.

The latest draft contains five main challenges and lays out an implementation timeline that goes out as far as 22 years. Among other things, the proposed plan: supports a roundabout at the intersection of Sixth Street and Red Lady Avenue by the entrance to the Crested Butte Community School; slowly expands the permit parking plan in town; adds stop signs in town; makes permanent outside dining patios on Elk Avenue; tests a so-called pilot program for a festival street that would weekly close sections of Elk Avenue and Third Street to provide more pedestrian and bike only opportunities outside of special events; considers pedestrian bridges over Coal Creek at Gothic and Teocalli Avenues; provides recommendations to Mountain Express to adjust its route to serve more residents; moves toward car and bike share programs; uses public transit to access trailheads with Peanut Lake Road being a test site; requires Electric Vehicle infrastructure at vacation rental locations; understands the need to decide on how to deal with ice on Elk Avenue; looks at which alleys to prioritize for cars and which for pedestrians; and lots more.

The five key challenges identified at this point are to 1) deal with a growth in traffic and increased dependency on cars that has eroded the pedestrian experience in CB, 2) deal with some of Crested Butte’s streets that feel overwhelmed by traffic at peak times, 3) deal with the availability of parking in town that encourages people to drive into Crested Butte, 4) improve the local transit services to expand where they go while providing transit facilities that are convenient and comfortable for all people, and 5) continue to have Elk Avenue be a place where everyone wants to be year round and businesses can thrive.

At the November 6 council work session, Crested Butte long-range planner Mel Yemma said that at the request of council, the planning department contacted Telluride to see how the roundabout by their school worked, and they said it not only works well for traffic but is safe and works for pedestrians as well.

Councilmember Beth Goldstone said she was leaning more in favor of a single lane roundabout at the intersection. Mayor Ian Billick reiterated his support for such a roundabout.

Resident Danica Ramgoolam opposed the idea. “Aesthetically, I’m opposed to the roundabout,” she said. “It will ruin the entrance to town and turn us into Telluride.”

Community Development director Troy Russ said the question of how to deal with ice and snow on Elk Avenue was a major decision for council. “Ice will be part of our lives,” he said. “Do we put in an all-snowmelt system? Not allow snowmelt? Provide sand for people at various locations? Provide information about the value of Yaktrax? We understand there are challenges out there,” he said. “Holistic changes about how we manage snow is more than is in this plan.”

“I know it sounds like a joke, but I’ve seen how flame throwers can quickly deal with ice,” said councilmember Anna Fenerty referencing a YouTube video showing its effectiveness.

“There are a lot of opportunities with snowmelt, including apparently flamethrowers,” said Billick. “Snowmelt might be part of the snow storage plan in our situation.”

“It is worth exploring all the options to deal with ice on the streets and sidewalks,” added councilmember Mallika Magner.

“Elk Avenue is where we have the most pedestrians. There can be huge personal costs to consider with ice removal in terms of things like broken bones. We want to create a more ice-free environment on Elk,” Billick said asking staff to do more investigation of alternatives available to deal with ice removal.

Ramgoolam who is co-owner of Townie Books on Elk Avenue spoke in support of heated sidewalks in downtown CB. “As an Elk Avenue business owner, I think we need heated sidewalks,” she said. “There is so much ice buildup. I witnessed a wheelchair trying to navigate the sidewalk last winter and it was appalling.”

Council had a discussion over the value of requiring hotels and vacation rentals to provide EV charging stations. Russ said the goal was to have visitors arrive in electric vehicles and park the car during their time in the valley. Councilmember Chris Haver again said he has noticed that because charging is not readily available, EV drivers currently don’t use their electric vehicles much while in town. “Would having more chargers encourage more driving,” he asked.

Billick said he was more comfortable with a plan that included incentives for people to include EV chargers instead of having the town mandate them.

Fenerty asked if the council should be talking about the power of parking regularly, sort of like the town’s snow and ice plan. Russ said more parking regulations would be coming “incrementally” and noted the Center for the Arts will be doing more parking management starting in 2024 for major events. He said that after land use decisions, parking decisions are the most powerful tool the town had to guide vehicle use in town. Yemma said further parking rules were part of the more long-term timeframe in the plan.

Council generally agreed parking should be an annual discussion point for council. Overall, the council appreciated the plan’s refinements since September. Billick said while he supported the roundabout, he was “skeptical” of the idea for an expanded circulator bus in town, said transit opportunities to nearby trailheads are important to him and noted “that if I had one sustainability lever, I’d want to look at redefining our relationship to cars.”

Haver said he was concerned with the town “artificially” eliminating spots for parking and he has consistently argued against the elimination of parking spaces at Third and Elk. “If we have systems in place to deal with parking issues while being consumer friendly, that works. It can be molded as needed.”

Councilmember Gabi Prochaska said she disagreed with Haver. “We can do it artificially if other alternatives are available,” she said, citing the possibility of a bike share program or bike storage facility tied to the transit system.

Prochaska also said while she appreciated the staff idea of altering the Mountain Express route to get more bus stops closer to more residents, she wondered if that would impact the timing of the routes to a point some people would choose not to use a bus given the extended length of the ride. She said she agreed the focus should be on keeping more cars out of town.

Council members agreed there would be continued discussion over the draft plan before it was adopted.

“The plan has long-term priorities, but we have plans to hit the ground running so we will busy in 2024,” Yemma concluded.

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