Editorial: Find a friend for the cold, dark detour days
October 8, 2017
Traffic statistics provided last week generally pass the eyeball test, showing that the Grand Avenue bridge detour is carrying about 26 percent less traffic during the morning rush than pre-closure estimates, with an 18 percent reduction in the afternoon.
These stats, which are a snapshot, not a precise vehicle-by-vehicle count and did not include a Friday, aren't surprising. It was improbable that we would achieve the 35 percent reduction that an independent analysis said would be needed to prevent hourlong delays at peak traffic times. And afternoon delays at times have been even longer than that.
Still, it is remarkable and commendable that so many drivers have found a way to stay off of the detour route at peak times. While the shortfall has meant long, frustrating travel through Glenwood Springs in the afternoon, it would be all the worse otherwise.
We — and "we" is not used casually here; all of us have a stake in this — face a challenge over the next 40 or so days to keep it up. The days will be shorter, colder and some will be wetter, increasing the inconvenience and difficulty of alternative means of travel.
Adjustments that people have made in the morning, by all accounts, have made a difference. Many upvalley workers are leaving earlier, some appear to be staying south of the bridge during the week, and about 1,000 riders a day are taking RFTA's Hogback bus at least to Glenwood. Those changes have gone a long way toward alleviating the morning gridlock experienced in the early days of the detour.
But people have less flexibility going home, and rightly so. They want to be with their families, to try to go to children's activities, to simply enjoy the fruits of their labor.
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That has meant really bad traffic through Glenwood in the afternoons, not only on Grand Avenue, but on side streets through our narrow town. It's worst on Fridays, as people leave for weekend trips or return home after spending all or part of the week closer to jobs.
Statistics flatten reality into averages, which is why we referred to the "eyeball test" earlier. The bridge project team acknowledges that the detour route, one lane going downvalley, is carrying as many cars as it can during peak times. That means every single additional vehicle makes a difference. That creates the backups and spill-overs that we see south of Glenwood and on side streets.
After last week's wet, chilly snap, the eyeball test on Thursday and Friday suggested that some people who had found alternatives previously retreated to their cars for warmth and convenience.
Glenwood Police Chief Terry Wilson, who has spent plenty of time at Eighth and Grand and other locations during the detour, has noted throughout the bridge closure that the vast majority of cars are carrying only the driver.
As the weather turns, therein lies the solution. We have to increase carpooling. If misery loves company, then being in a car with a co-worker or three can make the suffering a little lighter.
While it might have been practical to bike in September, that's much less the case when the weather is like it was early last week.
The risks of the detour outlined at the beginning of the bridge closure remain, chief among them that too much traffic will keep emergency vehicles from getting through. We've been fortunate that there hasn't been a bad accident or fire south of Glenwood in the afternoon during the bridge closure.
We have about 40 days to go until the new Grand Avenue bridge opens with one lane in each direction. The bridge team is working on the new traffic flow for when that happens, and certainly our frustrations won't be over.
So we have to continue being creative where we can. It's really obvious — the eyeballs say so — that every vehicle taken off the road makes things just a little less worse.
Meanwhile, as we wait for the bridge to open, Glenwood Springs (finally) has begun to install bear-proof garbage containers on Grand Avenue.
This comes more than two years after the City Council approved an ordinance setting the fine at $500 for a second violation for failing to secure garbage.
While we haven't had marauding bears along Grand, it's about time. Bear activity has increased in Glenwood in recent years, prompting the ordinance, and it's only right that the city come into compliance with its own tough law.
It's still easy to find ordinary garbage cans around downtown, though, for example in the library plaza, so the job isn't done.