Glenwood Springs sees more crashes, fatalities than similar communities

Canyon closures, driver frustration and more factor into city’s traffic woes

Un grupo de peatones cruza Grand Avenue en 14th Street durante el ajetreado tráfico matutino en Glenwood Springs.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Glenwood Springs scored low in traffic safety compared to peer cities and statewide traffic studies, but this could mean good changes for pedestrians and people stuck in traffic. 

“I’d like to reduce the number of signals along Grand to look at trying to reduce some of those rear end accidents and also to give us additional signal timing at some of our higher volume pedestrian crossings,” City Engineer Terri Partch said. “I would like to put in medians.”

The Federal Highway Administration and Garfield County started a study in 2017 to evaluate road safety issues across the county and state; the city of Glenwood Springs was invited to participate and allowed to conduct their own research. 

The Colorado Department of Transportation provided crash data from 2017-2021 on state, county and city roadways for Glenwood Springs as well as all peer cities, according to the report presented at city council. 

“We did have higher than peer cities and higher than statewide average percentage of crashes at intersections,” Partch said. “We also have a higher than statewide average and also higher than peer city average of fatalities. So, I think that this gives us a good place to start in evaluating our safety across the city.”

Overall, Glenwood Springs had four fatal crashes and twenty-two crashes with suspected serious injuries between 2017 and 2021. Midland and Grand Avenue have the majority of the total and severe injury crashes.

Peer cities for the study include Aspen, Breckenridge, Frisco, Rifle and Steamboat Springs. 

The percentage of fatal collisions and severe injury collisions in Glenwood Springs is 2.0% compared to a statewide average of 1.8% and a peer city average of 0.9%.

Partch was able to focus the safety plan to cover certain areas like distracted drivers, better safety for pedestrians and bicyclists and better communication during closures. 

10.6% of crashes in Glenwood Springs involved a pedestrian. This number is higher than the percentage overall statewide at 4.0% and higher than peer cities at 8.3%. 7.5% of the crashes in Glenwood Springs involved a bicyclist. This is higher than the statewide average of 3.0% and the peer city rate of 5.4%, according to the report.

Some ideas for pedestrian safety on Grand Avenue include what is called a road diet, where the road is narrowed to make drivers less likely to speed and to add room for pedestrians on sidewalks. Partch also proposed putting a median on Grand Avenue to create more safe spots for pedestrians crossing.

“We’re going to expand those sidewalks and the bike lanes and press the vehicles in. We’re going to narrow those lanes and just make it so that drivers are less comfortable driving,” Partch said. 

The faster cars go, the smaller the driver’s field of vision becomes. Narrowing lanes to make drivers go the speed limit also helps their field of vision expand, making them a safer driver all around, according to the report. 

A map of collisions that happened during the time of the study showed frequent pedestrian accidents at 10th Street, 21st Street and Fourth Street, with the majority of pedestrian accidents happening on 14th Street and Grand Avenue. 

“We know, just from living in the city, that we have a lot of pedestrians at that intersection both from a bus stop standpoint, as well as the high school,” she said. “So we’ve got a lot of pedestrian-related hotspots where we really want to focus our efforts.” 

Rear-end crashes in Glenwood Springs accounted for 40.7% of the overall crashes compared to the statewide average of 29.9% and the peer city average of 37.0%.  

“We see additional rear end crashes, pedestrian crashes, driveway crashes, and careless driving crashes,” Partch said. “We believe that those are probably due to frustration and maybe drivers trying to get off of State Highway 82 and go to corridors that they’re unfamiliar with.”

65.3% of the crashes in Glenwood Springs occurred when the speed limit was 25 miles per hour compared to the statewide average of 6.7% and 36.4% in peer cities.  

Since the majority of the city has a speed limit of 25 miles per hour, that is why wrecks at the slow speed have an abnormally high average, Partch said. 

“One of the other things that we looked at was what happens to the city’s accident rate when we have closures in the canyons, and what we were able to show is that those closures really do lead to increased accident frequency,” Partch said. 

Although there are few collisions, the 27th Street roundabout is one of the highest priorities for pedestrian safety. Partch said the roundabout was constructed incorrectly and causes drivers to drive too fast around it, making it especially risky for pedestrians trying to cross.   

Roundabouts are overall a safer option to four way stops. 

“Roundabouts — some people hate them, but from a pedestrian standpoint and from a vehicular standpoint, there are (fewer) potential collision points,” Partch said. 

The city will use this data and solutions that Partch has brainstormed to apply for a ‘Safe Streets for All’ grant program to fund these safety changes.  

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