CDOT: Better signage coming to Highway 82 near Aspen
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
ASPEN – Better signs to direct pedestrians to a bike path along Highway 82 on the outskirts of Aspen will be the initial response to last month’s accident in which a woman was struck and killed by a bus while she was walking in the highway bus lane at night.
Officials with the Colorado Department of Transportation visited the accident scene Wednesday to discuss potential safety improvements for pedestrians in the area. They were accompanied by officials with the city of Aspen, Pitkin County and the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority.
“We do think that we can probably improve the guidance to pedestrians,” said Zane Znamenacek, safety and traffic engineer in CDOT’s Grand Junction office. “Maybe we can improve things somewhat.”
The paved bike path runs along the opposite side of the highway from where Joanie Marie Kocab was killed around 2:30 a.m. on Jan. 1. She was walking upvalley in the bus lane, just downvalley from the Owl Creek Road intersection.
Kocab, 29, was a Basalt resident but a newcomer to the Roaring Fork Valley. She might not have been familiar with the separate, paved path that extends from the city of Aspen out to the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport and beyond. The path, set lower than the highway, is not visible from all sections of the road, even during daylight hours. A guardrail along the highway where Kocab was walking leaves no space for a pedestrian to get off the pavement.
The Colorado State Patrol, with the help of local authorities, has tried to piece together how Kocab wound up walking on the highway in the somewhat rural area at that time of night, but the results of the investigation have not been made public. The bus driver reportedly didn’t see Kocab. She was struck from behind and killed by the Aspen-bound bus. Kocab had a blood-alcohol content of 0.298 percent at the time of the accident, according to the Pitkin County Coroner’s Office. That’s nearly three times Colorado’s legal threshold for driving under the influence.
The goal for CDOT is to improve the signs that direct pedestrians, whether they’re familiar with the area or not, to the safe walking route on the bike path, Znamenacek said. That direction will logically be placed at intersections with crosswalks, he said.
Following the accident, there were calls for more lights along the highway in the stretch where Kocab was struck, but officials visiting the site didn’t see lighting as the solution.
“The group as a whole didn’t feel having lighting would have made much difference,” Znamenacek said.
Making improvements that foresee every possible scenario in which a pedestrian could put himself or herself in harm’s way isn’t realistic, added Brian Pettet, public works director for the county. He was among the officials who visited the scene.
“There are certain areas that we maybe can sign better and help people not make a bad decision,” he said.
Ordering and installing new signs will take a month or two, according to Znamenacek.
“I think we’d like to have them up by the time spring rolls around and we start seeing more pedestrian-type traffic,” he said.
The Jan. 1 accident remains under investigation. The State Patrol’s report has been turned over to the District Attorney’s Office to determine whether charges stemming from the accident are warranted. A decision is expected next month.
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