Transportation data collection shows where Glenwood Springs traffic comes from, goes to
Transportation flows through Glenwood Springs have been rapidly increasing — but with little data as to where people are coming from and heading to.
“Nobody really understood how people were moving through Glenwood,” Glenwood Springs Engineer Terri Partch said.
But, a new Glenwood Springs Regional Origin and Destination Study offers some insight.
“Somewhere between 42% and 50% of people are coming from western Garfield County, so they have origins in Rifle, Parachute, and New Castle — those destinations that are coming through our community and then continuing south,” Partch said in addressing the study at a recent meeting of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) board.
There is also a small amount, about 3-4% of people, coming from the Eagle Valley and commuting farther south toward Aspen, she said.
Of the people commuting from West Garfield County and Mesa County and heading south, 29-33% are heading to Aspen/Snowmass, 16-22% are heading to El Jebel and about 50% are heading to Carbondale, Partch said.
There has been much speculation over the years that many workers in Glenwood Springs come from western Garfield County, and that a lot of the traffic is passing through headed south on Colorado Highway 82. But, there has never been good data to back up any theories.
How the city collected the data
“We had different committees that addressed different issues in our comprehensive plan, and one of the most volatile was the idea of transportation,” Partch said.
As a way to retrieve more data, the city of Glenwood Springs collected a cell-phone dataset through GPS during 2019 and again in 2021 to understand average commuting trips through the city.
“Broadly, we acquired these datasets based on your cell phone,” Partch said. “Whenever you’re using applications on your cell phone, you say, allow location.”
If a user says “Yes,” it allows a third-party consulting company hired by the city to track commuting locations — but broadly.
“They won’t allow you to track an individual from their home,” she said. “It allows you to track neighborhoods, larger communities, routes through a community within 10 meters, so you can isolate the streets, and that kind of thing.”
The data is limited, and only records people who had their GPS tracking on, but it creates more contextual data to go with Census information.
The overall data was collected from approximately 110 million cell phones in the United States, which is about 33% or a third of the total population.
Trips are only collected when the cell phone has apps with the Location Based Services (LBS) turned on, which varies from 1%-35% of all trips, according to the report. It also didn’t represent trips that were made by bicycle or walking.
Zones were created for each town, with Carbondale having a slightly larger area that was pushed almost the entire way to Glenwood Springs including places like Cattle Creek.
“In this case, I feel like I didn’t put enough definition into Carbondale,” Partch said. “So, you’ll see a large movement into Carbondale, and everybody felt like that may have been inaccurate coming directly to the city as we understand it.”
What the numbers say
The traffic study found that, from 2019 to 2021, between 42% to 52% of people who live in the Glenwood Springs area are commuting south between 5-10 a.m. for about nine hours a day on a regular basis before returning.
Of the trips that begin in Glenwood Springs, 28-33% are going to Carbondale, 21-28% are going to El Jebel, and 22-28% are going to Aspen/Snowmass. Only about 1-5% are heading west to New Castle, Rifle, and Parachute.
Of the motorists heading south from Glenwood Springs, about 50% are residents of Glenwood, and 50% are people who live farther west. According to the data, in 2019, slightly more people used to commute from Glenwood Springs, but, in 2021, slightly more people seem to be commuting south of Glenwood from western Garfield County.
“The importance of regional transportation is really highlighted in a lot of these slides,” Partch said.
People commuting into Glenwood Springs for work from different parts of the county are mostly coming from New Castle and Rifle, she noted.
“We see really large signals coming from New Castle and Rifle, and we do have a small percentage that come into Glenwood from Carbondale,” she said.
People who commute to Glenwood for jobs, school, or shopping show about 30% from New Castle, 23-29% from Rifle, and 11% from Silt and Carbondale.
“This kind of data indicates that the (RFTA) Hogback Route is really important to Glenwood Springs. Making sure that we have the right headways, and the right timing of that Hogback Route would really help reduce single occupancy vehicles as they move through,” Partch said.
One of the biggest points of agreement among RFTA board members was that one of the best solutions for traffic from western Garfield County would be to get Rifle, Silt, and Parachute/ Battlement Mesa more on board with RFTA.
Glenwood Springs Council Member and RFTA board alternate Shelley Kaup said part of them getting the data and insights from the traffic study came out of RFTA’s Move Study, which addresses bus headways and challenges keeping buses moving on Grand Avenue.
She added that, when city council talked to the city Transportation Commission about removing lanes on Grand to accommodate buses or moving the RFTA route to the Rio Grande corridor, they received push back.
Kaup added that they wanted the city and RFTA to prioritize getting people out of their car first.
“I think this data really shows that we’ve got a lot of work to do,” she said.
Post Independent reporter Cassandra Ballard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-384-9131.
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