Council brainstorms more transportation and mobility ideas

Taking a high bar and raising it…

By Mark Reaman 

Crested Butte town council members continue to react and give input to the evolving draft Transportation and Mobility Plan. Staff is taking their comments, analyzing them and incorporating the ideas into the plan with the hope of bringing a final draft to the council sometime this winter for approval or more consideration.

Council members at a January 16 work session voiced that they are comfortable with more parking management in town to discourage the number of vehicles coming into Crested Butte (see January 26 issue); would like to see a more visible marshal’s presence to discourage speeding in town; want to protect individual neighborhoods from an increase in car volume so is leaning toward discouraging measures that push vehicles from main driving corridors onto more pedestrian-friendly streets; want to explore further expansion and use of existing pedestrian corridors throughout town; and is open to allowing retail parklets on Elk Avenue to complement the current restaurant parklets.

Over the last year, the draft plan has evolved into what some might consider a watered-down version of the original ideas that could take more than 20 years to completely implement, but council feels the base of the plan is a good start that will have clearly defined goals and some potential quick impacts.

Robust discussions lead to evolving plan

Some members of the citizens advisory committee that participated in guiding the draft plan attended the work session and voiced to the council that the general feeling was that while discussions were not always easy and sometimes actually contentious, the plan was extensive and has evolved into a solid starting point to address transportation issues in Crested Butte.

“We all agreed we could agree to disagree,” said advisory committee member Kimberly Barefield. “This is a good document to move forward while understanding it can be changed as it moves forward.”

“The group worked hard and nothing was unanimous. While I’m not personally for a lot that was decided, I’m ready to move forward,” added advisory committee member Glo Cunningham. 

“The plan is an impetus for cultural change and making transportation part of our culture,” said committee member Ed Schmidt. “It can help inform people that come to town for a week to not touch their car once here. If handled right, it could be a part of who we are.”

“We need to message to the visitors that you get to walk and bike for the week you are here,” said councilmember Jason MacMillan. “We can use our partners to help spread the message.”

“Lots of conversations were held but there is a lot more to talk about as we move the process forward,” said Crested Butte Public Works director Shea Earley. 

“We see the problems being addressed and we’ll work with whatever you come up with,” added Crested Butte chief marshal Mike Reily. “The plan seems on a right track.”

“One thing to keep in mind is that we are a pedestrian and bike friendly town already,” said committee member Scott Truex. “We already do a good job.” 

The plan backs up that conclusion by stating that for people driving into Crested Butte as the destination (63% of all vehicles entering CB in the summer and 56% in the winter), once here, 95% then walk or bike around Crested Butte. 

“We heard from the community that we need to go friendlier,” said Community Development director Troy Russ. “We are taking a high bar and raising it.”

Enforcing the regs…

Council agreed on the idea of local marshals more visibly enforcing traffic violations, especially speeding. Council members said they all receive feedback about people speeding through town.

“There are certainly a lot of opinions about how we should do enforcement,” said Reily. “Our philosophy is to focus on education. If people know what to do, they generally do the right thing. We give eight warnings for every citation. It might not be the most efficient but it’s the right philosophy.”

Reily said that education-first philosophy has been handed down through the department through time and each individual officer has a “different level” of issuing citations. “It’s a very feedback-intensive track and that’s what makes the town safe,” he said.

 “Personally, I have a lot of value for the marshals being seen in town,” said mayor Ian Billick. “That’s whether they are issuing a warning or a citation. It sets a tone.”

“There is a perception that people don’t get pulled over speeding in town,” said MacMillan. 

“They do,” assured Reily. “Most people can’t accurately judge speed. We do several things to try and emphasize prevention. We park in obvious spots to slow people down. The speed signs have been good. But I’m not sure how to get everyone out of vacation mode. The speed limit is slow and most people drive pretty safe and slow in Crested Butte. In summer, there are lots of cars in town so they have to go slow.”

“I agree with Jason that when people see someone getting stopped by a marshal it is a big deterrent. So, seeing more people pulled over would help,” added councilmember Mallika Magner.

“As a pedestrian, that law enforcement presence makes a huge difference,” said councilmember Anna Fenerty.

“So at least the appearance of enforcement is something the council is encouraging. It is maybe something for the staff to discuss,” said Billick.

Fenerty asked if the enforcement policy was the same for biking infractions. “It’s mostly the same,” responded Reily. “We understand bikers are comfortable in this town, but they need to be aware of their surroundings. Not stopping at a stop sign is an example. In a bike versus vehicle accident, the vehicle will usually win.”

Reily said Gunnison Valley Health recently donated a bunch of bike lights that his department will start handing out in spring and summer to improve bike safety.

Elk Ave retail parklets?

The council expressed an openness to further exploring the idea of allowing retail parklets on Elk Avenue to complement the summer restaurant parklets. 

Russ said there is a lot of desire from retailers in town to be able to use the sidewalk to display goods. But while enforcement was minimal during COVID, the desire remains, and current town regulations prohibit it. 

“I just don’t want Elk to look like a bazaar,” said MacMillan.

“I think it is hard enough to do business here so if it can help, I think we can give them the opportunity in a regulated environment,” said councilmember Gabi Prochaska. “It is equal opportunity.”

“I agree with Gabi. Restaurants are important for a resort community but so is shopping,” said Magner. “We should do what we can to give retailers a hand.”

“That involves a sense of fairness,” said councilmember Kent Cowherd. “We should consider opening it up to every Elk Avenue business that wants it.”

“Fair isn’t always equal,” added MacMillan.

“There is a misconception that the restaurants don’t pay for that space, but they do,” said Fenerty. 

Restaurants are charged an annual parklet permit fee of $3 per square foot. One parallel parking space-sized parklet on Elk Avenue, for example, would cost a business about $600. A parklet taking up two parking spaces on Third Street would be in for $1,080.

Fenerty said many retailers may not want to place unwatched merchandise as far away as a street parklet but staff was wary of allowing merchandise on already crowded sidewalks.

“What is important to me is that we have a fantastic Elk Avenue experience,” emphasized Billick. “At the end of the day, a fantastic experience is the driver for better business for everyone.”

“We should ask the Elk Avenue retailers what it is they want that will help them,” said Magner.

Town will explore the viability and desire of retail parklets on Elk that keep the sidewalks open.

Preserving pedestrian areas

While attempting to reduce the number of vehicles coming into town was a priority for the council, so was protecting existing pedestrian corridors and neighborhoods. 

“The discussion of moving traffic distribution around town in my view hurts the pedestrian experience,” said Billick, who indicated that taking even a little traffic from the main vehicle corridor of Sixth Street and moving it to more tranquil side streets would be a mistake. “Our metric for success should not be to redistribute traffic unless we understand the impact on the pedestrian experience.”

“It is definitely data I would like to see and understand,” said Prochaska.

“It makes sense to look at it by individual area and corridor instead of using a general number,” said councilmember Beth Goldstone.

“How do you correlate the data with the experience,” asked Crested Butte long-range planner Mel Yemma. 

“It is hard to really explain what is trying to be preserved,” said Fenerty. 

“But it is important to me that Crested Butte’s pedestrian areas stay pedestrian,” said Billick. “I live on Sopris and wouldn’t expect to have the same experience as when I walk on Butte.”

“We need to also understand how those pedestrian areas change with the seasons,” said Cowherd. 

“Getting feedback from different neighborhoods is important,” said Fenerty. “Each quadrant of town is different.”

“There are pedestrian corridors all over town and we have an opportunity to improve those pedestrian corridors,” said Billick.

“The landscape of the various streets plays into how we interact there,” said Fenerty.

Staff hopes to have a final draft in front of the council for consideration before the end of the winter.

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