Elephant ears slow traffic in downtown Basalt | AspenTimes.com

Elephant ears slow traffic in downtown Basalt

Basalt’s infamous for having one of the goofiest entrances to town in western Colorado, but that didn’t spook officials from making drastic changes to the main intersection downtown.

The town government reworked the junction of Two Rivers Road and Midland Avenue this week by eliminating turning lanes and reducing the travel lanes to one in each direction.

Town officials acknowledge that will make traffic more congested at busy times of the day. It also makes it easier and safer for pedestrians to cross the busy roads.

And that, they believe, is a worthwhile trade.

Where pedestrians once had to dash across four lanes of traffic on Two River Road, now there are only two lanes. And where three lanes existed on Midland Avenue, now there are just two.

With the public, the jury is still out. Deputy Town Manager Betsy Suerth said Town Hall has received numerous telephone calls about the changes. Many of them are from residents who simply want to know what’s going on. Some calls have been complaints from drivers who noted they cannot take corners off of Two Rivers Road onto Midland Avenue, or vice versa, as fast any more.

Slowing traffic down, or “traffic calming” in the lingo of engineers, is exactly the point, Suerth said.

To reduce the travel lanes at the intersection, the town government had a contractor paint what’s known as elephant ears. Those are yellow-hatched lines in a curved form which squeeze traffic into one lane.

Before the change, the eastbound lane on Two Rivers Road, for example, had a left-turn lane onto Midland Avenue, a lane for traffic going straight and a lane for a right turn. Now there’s a single lane.

More vehicles will stack at that intersection during the morning and afternoon “rush hours,” Suerth said. But the intersection will still function at a service level of “C” at even the busiest times, which means it will still function well, she said.

The changes weren’t made solely to benefit pedestrians. The intersection had to be squeezed to accommodate diagonal parking on Two Rivers Road, one of the town government’s highest priorities.

The town acquired the road from the Colorado Department of Transportation in January. Diagonal parking isn’t allowed on a state-owned road, but Basalt can do whatever it wants.

Lines were painted Thursday for 93 diagonal spots on Two Rivers Road between the green bridge over the Fryingpan River and the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park. The diagonal parking replaces parallel parking that existed in some spots, so there is a net gain of about 75 spaces, Suerth said.

The additional spaces are expected to ease the parking shortage downtown. Timed parking was implemented last year to help foot traffic flow in and out of downtown.

The elephant ears that were painted at the intersection are scheduled to be converted into concrete before the snow flies, Suerth said. Some drainage issues need to be solved before permanent elephant ears are added.

The delay will allow the town government “to take everybody’s temperature” before permanent changes are implemented, said Mayor Rick Stevens. He said he supports the changes because it help to keep the intersection manageable and prevents an even more drastic move.

“We’re really trying to avoid signalization [traffic lights] there,” Stevens said.

Basalt resident Jim Paussa said he liked the changes, as he watched traffic and pedestrians flow through the intersection Thursday. When told that Town Hall had received some complaints, he noted that many people initially hated the roundabout at Highway 82 and Castle/Maroon Creek roads, but soon learned that it handled traffic better. He predicted high marks for the Basalt intersection once people have time to properly judge it.

Town resident Cameron Burns, who has criticized Basalt’s past roadway experiments, said he supports steps that will help pedestrians.

It doesn’t appear that Basalt has repeated the muddle created with the main entrance to town, he said. The town designed an entrance about four years ago that brings traffic off Highway 82, sends it through a roundabout, doglegs it past the post office and over a new bridge before reaching downtown.

“The whole thing was stupid,” said Burns.

Town officials hope their latest maneuver doesn’t earn the same label.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.]

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