Editorial: CDOT must give weight to Glenwood pedestrians | PostIndependent.com

Editorial: CDOT must give weight to Glenwood pedestrians

When the Grand Avenue bridge project kicked off, the Colorado Department of Transportation told the Post Independent it would study light timing on cross streets at the conclusion of construction.

CDOT says it will, indeed, conduct that study, but must wait until all construction is completed “because the work zones currently in place will skew the results of the initial investigations.” While no date is set for that, Glenwood Springs government and business owes it to pedestrians to advocate for reasonable crossing times.

We do not question that “balancing the needs for the multiple modes of transportation in Glenwood Springs (pedestrians, bicycles, RFTA, commuter traffic and local traffic) is challenging,” as Andi Staley, CDOT’s Region 3 traffic operations resident engineer, said in an email.

“When it comes to signal timing, CDOT’s goal is to balance the federal requirements … along with recommended practice from published technical guidance documents and engineering judgment to develop safe and efficient signal timing plans,” Staley said.

That sounds grand. But when considering “recommended practice from published technical guidance documents and engineering judgment,” let’s be sure we factor in common sense and use our eyeballs.

In plain language, from our perspective, pedestrians must be given more weight in this balancing process.

The new Grand Avenue bridge is about moving vehicles more efficiently to and from Aspen. That’s obvious, and we don’t challenge that it’s essential. Workers, goods and tourists need to be able to move upvalley to economic centers.

In discussing the post-bridge study in April 2016, CDOT talked more about cars waiting on side streets than pedestrians.

Former Glenwood Councilor Leo McKinney summed up the local issue in 2014: “The timing of the signals isn’t for pedestrians; it’s to keep traffic flowing. … CDOT needs to understand we need to be able to cross Grand a lot easier and safer.”

People get 19-20 seconds to cross Grand Avenue downtown. On a good day for a fit, focused person, that’s fine. If you are elderly, physically challenged, accompanying a child or walking a bike in bike shoes; or if there’s snow and ice, it’s a rush at best.

Pedestrians get about 5 seconds longer to cross the main drag in Moab, and just that difference takes some pressure off. The pace crossing Michigan Avenue in Chicago’s Miracle Mile is more leisurely than crossing Grand Avenue in little Glenwood Springs.

Beyond downtown, we’ve seen elderly and challenged pedestrians turn back partway across Grand in the winter. A local official has expressed concern that a biker or pedestrian at some point will get killed at 23rd Street.

In response to our questions about pedestrians crossing Grand generally (not about a specific spot), CDOT regional spokeswoman Tracy Trulove said, “We have a robust multimodal program statewide, and our projects, when funded, always look for ways to improve pedestrian safety. A perfect example of this on the CO 82 corridor is the just-completed Basalt underpass.”

Yes. That is terrific for Basalt, as is the underpass at El Jebel Road and at Willits.

And, in fairness, CDOT did improve Glenwood’s bike and pedestrian underpass under the new bridge on the north side of the Colorado River.

But Glenwood lacks an overpass or developed underpass in the busiest part of town. It’s a shame.

Trulove also said that “once the plaza under the bridge is complete, elderly citizens, or moms with little kids or anyone will have the opportunity to make a safe crossing under the bridge” just south of Seventh Street. “A tremendous amount of work went into the partnership with the DDA [Downtown Development Authority] by CDOT on the design of that plaza to make it inviting, light and in the hopes that it will invite folks to make the crossing at this location.”

And that’s good, too; we encourage those who can and will to walk the extra block or two to cross there instead of at Eighth or Ninth. It will be a pleasant area and pedestrian traffic there is crucial for merchants who have suffered the most during bridge construction.

However, when we proposed an overpass with a Glenwood Springs greeting, we were told by a CDOT engineer that it was impractical in part because numerous studies show that people will cross the street in the most direct path, rather than going out of their way even a little.

That’s reinforced by the very slight use of Glenwood’s undeveloped underpass (or dirt tunnel) at 12th Street. It’s both out of the way and looks a little like a spot where sketchy things might happen,

Glenwood Springs residents and merchants put up with a lot the last two years. Now the bridge is built and the noise is back on Grand Avenue — so residents and merchants now just endure the normal externalities of having a traffic artery through the heart of town.

CDOT should find money to put in an underpass at 23rd. It probably won’t and Glenwood certainly isn’t ready for another major project on the corridor.

CDOT certainly won’t put in a new pedestrian bridge across Grand downtown. So the very, very, very least it could do is give people another 5 — heck, maybe even 8 seconds — to cross the highway delivering all those goodies to Aspen.