In first year, Glenwood smokers issued 34 tickets for violating ban | PostIndependent.com

In first year, Glenwood smokers issued 34 tickets for violating ban

A worker on the Grand Avenue bridge project puffs away within the downtown area where cigarette smoking is banned most of the day.

You may very well get away with smoking in downtown Glenwood Springs, but you're taking a pricey gamble.

Glenwood Springs police have issued 34 smoking tickets in downtown over the first year since the law took effect.

The smoking tickets are up to $200 a pop for first offenders. Police Chief Terry Wilson said that expensive fine is probably sending the message, as officers haven't issued many second-offense tickets.

The ban is in effect between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. in the downtown core, from Fifth Street to 11th Street, and generally extends two blocks on both sides of Grand Avenue. Also covered are the Sixth Street hotel district, public parks and trails, as well as 25 feet around transit bus stops, schools and school bus stops.

Officers keep an eye out for people violating the ban during the evenings and afternoons when the opportunity arises, but that might not be all that often, Wilson said. It just depends on the staffing and call load that day, he said.

The chief said plainly that enforcing the smoking ban isn't his department's top priority. When the department is short staffed, and especially when dealing with Grand Avenue bridge issues, finding officers who have time to wander around looking for smokers doesn't happen all that often.

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Officers have still been defaulting heavily toward warnings about the ban to avoid slapping unsuspecting tourists with a $200 ticket.

But if it's a person who's been warned before or someone puffing away while leaning against the no smoking sign, that's a different story, the chief said.

After sizing up enforcement over the last year, Wilson has some changes in mind to present to City Council.

One of those changes would be for a more sensible boundary for the smoking ban. The ordinance currently uses the Downtown Development Authority boundary, which doesn't follow an easily explained or understood path, said the chief. The DDA boundary weaves in and out in places, which is difficult to explain to people from out of town, short of handing them a map, he said. Simplifying the boundary may also make it easier to find efficient places for no-smoking signs.

Wilson said he hates littering the town with signs, but they're necessary to make visitors aware of the local ban. The city is still trying to refine where it places the no smoking signs in order to get the message across. The chief said he wanted to wait until the pedestrian bridge was completed as well to figure out where posting signs would give the city the biggest bang for its buck, instead of simply posting the signs everywhere.

He may also propose reducing the fines, or making the process easier by allowing offenders to mail in payments, as people can with a speeding ticket. Wilson hopes that step would ease congestion in court, whereas offenders currently have to appear in court on a smoking ticket.

Some workers on the Grand Avenue bridge project have blatantly smoked on the job in downtown throughout the project. Wilson said the code enforcement officer has given the workers warnings, but he didn't believe any of them had been ticketed.

Bridge project spokesman Tom Newland said the general contractor uses a variety of subcontractors, who regularly review with their employees the regulations and nuances of working in the middle of town, including etiquette with tourists, working with local businesses and following local ordinances like the smoking ban.

"That's about the best we can do," said Newland. "We're definitely getting out there in front of it."

Grand Avenue bridge construction in downtown is also pushing pedestrians, smokers and non-smokers alike, closer together on the sidewalk.

"Let's face it; downtown has been pretty busy and congested. You have to turn sideways to let people by you," Wilson said.

Lots of smokers caught in the ban zone still say they had never heard of Glenwood's smoking ordinance, said Wilson.

And it's to be expected that tourists from the Front Range wouldn't know about Glenwood's local bans, said the chief. The same is true for the city's ordinances restricting idling and use of truck jake brakes. There's no expectation that they'll know about the local ordinance prohibiting things that are perfectly legal where they're from, said Wilson.

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