Detour commuters brace for start of school
Add the morning and afternoon school rush to the mix of Grand Avenue bridge detour traffic.
Just as things have started to settle into a somewhat predictable pattern in terms of the time it takes to navigate the Midland/Eighth Street/Grand Avenue detour route that went into effect Aug. 14, the first day for Roaring Fork Schools brings the potential for several hundred more cars to be on the road.
That is, unless parents, students of driving age, teachers and staff heed the message to utilize the district’s school bus service, ride the free RFTA buses from west and north of the Colorado River, and/or carpool to and from school.
“Our key message has been for students to ride the bus if they can, out of respect for the people who absolutely need to be on the detour,” said Audrey Hazleton, principal at Glenwood Springs Elementary School in downtown Glenwood.
Adding to the anxiety for GSES is the fact that students will be coming to a brand new school building that replaced the former Bolitho wing, and what’s still an active construction zone while the historic old school building is being remodeled.
“We ask that people be patient with the ongoing construction, and the bridge construction,” Hazleton said.
Students taking the school bus to and from GSES, Glenwood Springs Middle School and Glenwood High School will be utilizing what’s called a “walking bus” along the Glenwood River Trail between drop-off points at GSES and Two Rivers Park.
Buses picking up GSES and GSHS students north of the Colorado River will drop and pick up at Two Rivers, and students will be escorted by adult chaperones to and from GSES.
GSMS students taking the bus from points south of the river will be dropped and picked up at GSES, and escorted to and from a waiting bus at Two Rivers Park.
Meanwhile, Hazleton noted that the revamped GSES campus has a new traffic flow.
Buses will access the school from Ninth Street, students walking to the school are to use 10th Street and any parents dropping off students are to use 11th Street (see attached map).
“We will have a lot of our teachers out on the corners helping to direct students and traffic,” she said.
The walking bus approach and modified school bus routes that will avoid the detour as much as possible is in response to the schools’ usual impact on traffic through Glenwood.
Surveys last school year found that about 1,000 students and 123 school employees crossed the Grand Avenue bridge back and forth each school day. The district also had buses crossing the river 24 times a day, either on Grand or the Midland Avenue bridge, according to district Transportation Director Jared Rains.
The goal during the detour period, which is to continue until Thanksgiving in November, is to try to reduce the number of buses using the detour route to no more than four.
Parent surveys done last spring also indicated that school bus use was likely to increase by 20 percent during the detour, Rains said.
A challenge will be to convince high school students to take the bus, whether it’s the school bus or RFTA, or to at least carpool with friends.
Glenwood High has nearly 300 students driving or being driven by parents or fellow students to and from school, according to the surveys.
“One thing we’ve really tried to focus on is to encourage kids to take public transportation in areas where travel is compromised,” said Pat Engle, assistant principal at GSHS. “Especially those students living north of the river or west toward Canyon Creek, the bus is really the best option.”
Alternatively, students could also drive to one of the public parking lots north of the river, at Two Rivers Park and west on Centennial Street, and walk from there. Free parking at the Glenwood Springs Mall also allows for students and other commuters to take the free shuttles from West Glenwood into the middle part of town.
Especially while the weather is still nice, it’s also an easy bike ride from the parking areas north of the river, Engle advised.
Students living in the Red Mountain neighborhoods along Midland Avenue across the Roaring Fork River from the high school can also now walk or ride across the new pedestrian bridge and directly up the recently completed staircase to the Rio Grande Trail.
During open campus at lunch time, high school students are being advised to walk or bike wherever it is they are headed for lunch and definitely to avoid driving north along the detour, lest they risk not getting back to school in time, Engle said.
The usual exodus of students leaving the school at lunch to cross Grand Avenue to City Market and other food options across the street means students will need to be extra cautious with the lunch-hour traffic, he said.
“For the first 15 minutes of the lunch period we will have an adult out there reminding students to respect the signs and cross when appropriate,” Engle said. “We also do have a lunch program here at school as a good option.”
Elementary and middle schools are also advising parents of a variety of after-school programs this fall to help families arrange a later time for students to be picked up, if need be, to avoid the heavier traffic times.