Four lanes of `Killer 82′ as dangerous as two? |

Four lanes of `Killer 82′ as dangerous as two?

Tim Mutrie

The recent rash of fatal crashes and other accidents on Highway 82 has some valley residents clamoring for safety upgrades, but local authorities say it’s up to drivers to make “Killer 82” safer.

In conversation and letters to local newspapers, residents are calling for increased roadway lighting, asphalt striping, traffic lights, crosswalks, pedestrian underpasses and other improvements in the name of safety. But, say authorities, there are no “silver bullet” solutions to unilaterally improve safety conditions for pedestrians and motorists along the heavily traveled roadway.

“It’s really the drivers who dictate how safe the road is,” said Trooper Sean O’Neil of the Colorado State Patrol. “If drivers divide their attention with things like tuning the radio or talking on cell phones, that really can contribute to more problems. Highway 82 demands a kind of attentiveness that’s unlike other roads.”

“These mountain highways require your utmost attention,” agreed Ralph Trapani, Colorado Department of Transportation project manager for the Highway 82 widening project. “It’s a characteristic of mountain roads – there are a lot of things to pay attention to. I’ve seen so many people get killed, just because of a brief moment of inattention.” Four lanes no panacea Statistics indicate upgrading a highway from two to four lanes with a median – such as the current Highway 82 project – reduces traffic deaths by 71 percent, according to Trapani. However, that statistic may be difficult to swallow in the wake of six fatalities on state highways on the New Year’s weekend. Of the sixth deaths, five occurred on Highway 82 – on four-lane stretches.

“Certainly, the safety advantage you get with a divided, four-lane highway is that when somebody does lose control, they don’t cause a head-on. But when people don’t stop at stop signs or give the right of way, accidents could happen anywhere,” Trapani said. “There’s no way we can engineer our way out of situations where people aren’t paying attention.”

“We live in a rural area that has urban traffic standards,” observed Dan Blankenship, general manager of the Roaring Fork Transit Agency.

A RFTA bus was involved in one of the recent fatal collisions on Highway 82. A local youngster remains in a coma after trying to cross the highway to a bus stop in another accident.

“How do you ensure perfect safety for everybody?” Blankenship asked. “Are we better off having a transit system that has some flaws that we’re working to improve, or none at all? There’s always the law of unintended consequences, meaning certain safety improvements don’t necessarily mean increased safety for everybody.” False sense of security RFTA hired an Arvada engineering company in 1997 to assess the safety conditions of bus stops along Highway 82 and to prioritize necessary improvements, among other things.

“We felt that we needed to provide safer standards for the bus stops along Highway 82,” Blankenship said.

And yet, less than 10 percent of the bus stops along Highway 82 have crosswalks which, by law, give pedestrians the right of way to cross the road.

“We’ve had a reluctance to put in crosswalks because pedestrians get a false sense of security. We want them to use extreme caution when they cross,” Blankenship said.

In fact, the 1997 study found: “In some cases, marked crosswalks have been associated with a higher pedestrian accident rate than similar unmarked crossings.” Trapani agrees. “It’s not our policy to put a crosswalk in unless there’s a traffic signal there, because it gives people a false sense of security,” Trapani said.

Overpasses and underpasses also pose safety paradoxes for pedestrians who cross the road regularly.

“First, they aren’t necessarily used by pedestrians,” Blankenship said.

“An overpass will allow pedestrians to cross safely, but may be visually intrusive to some people,” he said. “And an underpass will allow pedestrians to cross safely, but there are security issues associated with underpasses, because they’re concealed and people could get mugged.”

Trapani notes the failings of a pedestrian overpass crossing I-70 in Vail. “Even though we built the thing in 1977, people still die every year trying to get across I-70 on the surface,” he said.

As part of the Highway 82 construction, CDOT has looked at its options to accommodate safe pedestrian crossings, he said.

“When we looked at Lazy Glen, we knew there were a lot of people [using the bus stop] and so we went to the means to put in an underpass,” Trapani said. “But at Aspen Village, the underpass wouldn’t work, so we put in a traffic signal. In Holland Hills, in order to put one in, we’d have to buy whole parcels of property and displace people to do it.”

The Aspen youngster struck while crossing the highway was headed to a Holland Hills bus stop.

Signal lights pose safety problems, as well, Trapani said.

“When you put a traffic signal in, the accidents tend to increase,” he said. “That’s been proven, so I don’t think traffic lights are the entire solution either.” Holland Hills a tough spot “In Holland Hills, we looked to put in an underpass, but there wasn’t the room, and a traffic signal didn’t make sense because there just isn’t that much volume there,” Trapani said. “It’s one of those places where we don’t have a clear-cut solution to provide pedestrian safety.

“What we came up with was putting the bus stop well off the roadway and to put in plenty of lighting,” he said. “That’s the solution we come up with when we can’t put in an under- or overpass and the stop doesn’t warrant a traffic light.”

Improving pedestrian safety, Blankenship contends, requires a community commitment.

“There’s no silver bullet with this stuff, but everybody that lives here and wants to be a pedestrian at some time needs to consider these factors,” he said.

“There are some stops that parents may need to rule out for their kids, because there’s just too much going on,” Trapani added. “That’s something that a parent needs to evaluate with their kids.”

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