Dillon Valley residents fed up with unsafe streets

Jack Queen
Summit Daily News

When Emily Mulica and her husband moved into their Dillon Valley home in 2011, one of the first things they noticed was how fast people drove through their new neighborhood.

On one occasion, while Mulica was pregnant with her second child and walking with her first in a stroller, a car flew by and nearly hit her, prompting her to shout at the driver to slow down. (That didn’t go over very well with him.)

“That really kind of lit a fire in me that’s been fuming over the years,” she said. “I should be able to walk around in my neighborhood safely, especially in a place like Dillon Valley where there are so many families with kids.”

This year, with both of her kids now attending Dillon Valley Elementary, Mulica has enough time on her hands to try and make her dense neighborhood of winding roads and no sidewalks safer.

She’s not alone. On Tuesday evening, two dozen neighbors, parents and local officials gathered at Dillon Valley Elementary to discuss first steps. They hope to build on the momentum of a coming remodel of the elementary school and recent pedestrian improvements near the elementary school in Summit Cove, another residential area that’s notoriously difficult to walk through.

“I think that if people have somewhere to walk then more people will be out walking, and if more people are walking, people will drive slower and it will be safer for everyone,” Mulica told the group. “It’s going to take all of us working together, knocking our heads against it until we get some change happening here.”

County lands, town needs

Summit Cove and Dillon Valley have both become major enclaves for local families in ever-pricier Summit County. But since both areas are unincorporated and effectively governed by the county, pedestrian infrastructure has been slow to catch up with demand.

“We are a changing county, as you know,” assistant county manager Thad Noll told the group. “We started out as a little Wild West ski village, but we’re not that anymore. We are an urban zone, and we have to become more urban.”

The problem, of course, is money. County governments generally don’t invest in raised sidewalks on their roads, which are often remote and have limited foot traffic. Sidewalks are expensive to build and maintain, especially in places like Summit, with its 10-month winters and heavy snowfall.

But as Dillon Valley and Summit Cove have become increasingly dense with many residents who need to walk to bus stops, jobs and schools, the county has had to change the way it thinks about the roads that pass through them.

“It’s hard because we have these unincorporated neighborhoods but they have town needs,” Mulica said, reached by phone Wednesday.

Mulica’s group, Walkable Dillon Valley, is trying to rally residents around the cause, propagating a survey to gather ideas for how to make the neighborhood safer. It’s gotten some help from the nonprofit Family and Intercultural Resource Center’s Family Leadership Training Institute, a 20-week program that helps people affect change in their communities.

FIRC executive director and Dillon Valley resident Tamara Drangstveit, incidentally, was at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I walked my dog in the dark this morning at 5:30, and I couldn’t see the bike paths because there’s so much ice and snow,” she said. “Cars can’t see them, either. It’s not a particularly safe environment for me, let alone for my kids — or my dog.”

A long road

The Safe Routes to School project in Summit Cove, completed in October, provides a vision of what could be done in Dillon Valley — at least as a start. The third installment of a five-phase project in the neighborhood, it added bicycle and pedestrian lanes around Summit Cove Elementary.

The new lanes were carved out by widening existing roads, providing a walking and biking surface without the added expense of a raised sidewalk. The county recently added bike lane striping to some of Dillon Valley’s busiest roads, but like in Summit Cove, it can be hard to tell in the winter.

“I feel like what we’re hearing from residents is they want more substantial improvements to Dillon Valley, especially around the vicinity of Dillon Valley Elementary,” county public works director Tom Gosiorowski said.

On the money front, Noll said that getting a plan together is a necessary first step. Funding will come when there are clear options on the table and public will behind them.

“I don’t want this to sound all peaches and cream — it’s a long road,” he said. “However, it is worth it in your community, and we’re going to make this place walkable.”

Walkable Dillon Valley’s general vision is to get cars to slow down and establish more walking routes. The latter would ideally include a safer way to walk across Highway 6 to downtown Dillon.

“I feel like we’re well-poised for a kind of Renaissance (in Dillon Valley),” Mulica said. “We’re close to so many trails, downtown Dillon, the farmer’s market, the Dillon Amphitheatre — we just need a way to connect it all.”