Aspen resident calls for action on intersection
On the last day of August, with tourism season still in high gear, Aspen resident Dan Levinson stood at the intersection of Highway 82 and Pyramid Road, demonstrating why he believes a tragic accident is waiting to happen there.
Explaining his argument from a motorist’s point of view, he said, “Right now, you have zero visibility. You can’t see anything.”
Levinson was right. For a driver who is stopped at the traffic signal at Pyramid Road and plans to turn right on Highway 82, a blind spot exists, making it nearly impossible to see the bus-lane traffic heading toward the intersection.
That blind spot comes in the form of a copper-hued snow fence that the city installed earlier this century when it built a pedestrian underpass on the south side of Highway 82 across from the Aspen Golf Course. The underpass connects to a pathway toward a public bus stop for Aspen-bound riders.
There’s an easy fix to what Levinson, who lives in the private subdivision behind the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall, believes is a potentially dangerous situation. The city could move the fence another 100 feet or so south, along with the underpass, and the blind spot would disappear. The city owns the easement, and Levinson said the cost of such a project would be well worth it.
In the summer of 2015, the Colorado Department of Transportation installed a sign instructing drivers taking a right onto Highway 82 from Pyramid Drive not to turn when the traffic light is red. Levinson, who is retired and once was a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission, argued that was simply a tactic to hold motorists liable if they’re T-boned by eastbound buses.
“What they’re doing is a legal thing, shifting the blame to (the motorists taking a right onto to Highway 82) if there’s an accident and getting them off the hook because of the design,” he said.
Justin Forman, senior project manager for the city’s Engineering Department, said he has spoken with Levinson and understands his concerns. But the city and CDOT are in agreement that no changes need to be made, he said.
“To my knowledge, in the last two years there have been no accidents coming out of that intersection,” Forman said. City records confirm that, but Levinson argued a dangerous situation exists nonetheless.
CDOT, in email exchanges with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and the Aspen government, said the city could move the snow fence at its own discretion. However, “The snow fence can be left in place if desired because the sight distance issue created by the snow fence is mitigated by the traffic signal and ‘No Right Turn on Red’ sign for the south leg,” according to a CDOT email to city officials.
A RFTA email supported the city and CDOT’s position.
Levinson said he doesn’t want to get into the blame game, but he’s not satisfied with the responses he’s received from governmental agencies. He said he plans to express his concerns to the Aspen City Council at its next meeting today.
He added that the chances for a crash are further aggravated by the speed zones in the nearby area of the Highway 82 intersection.
Roughly 200 yards before Aspen-bound motorists approach the Maroon Creek bridge on Highway 82, a sign indicates 45 mph for normal traffic and 25 mph for the bus lane. But after the intersection in question, the speed limit becomes 35 mph for all Aspen-bound traffic until the roundabout.
Levinson contended that the speed limits should remain at 35 mph for the regular lane but be lowered to 25 mph for the bus lane immediately east of the intersection. Otherwise, buses are encouraged to go faster, which escalates the chances for a wreck at the intersection.
RFTA, however, says the lowered speed limits would negatively affect its service, and it also is seeking that the 25-mph bus zone just before the Maroon Creek bridge be upped to 35 mph.
“It is in fact fortuitous that the issue got raised because we are in the process of circling back to CDOT to seek a change in the speed limit across the Maroon Creek bridge back to 35 mph,” Kent Blackmer, RFTA’s co-director of operations, wrote in an email dated Aug. 25. “Our contention is that the no right on red for those existing Maroon Drive is the safest solution (to) the sight-line problem and that our buses can safely travel in the bus lane at 35 mph in this zone as long as the (no right on red) traffic sign remains in place and is adhered to.”
Blackmer could not be reached for immediate comment Friday to elaborate on his statement.
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