Traffic and pedestrians clash in Glenwood

Emergency workers attend to a driver involved in a minor accident Monday afternoon just south of Ninth Street on Grand Avenue.
Post Independent |

Even without impending construction on the Grand Avenue bridge, Glenwood Springs’ main drag is a challenging balance between pedestrian access and both local and upvalley traffic.

“It’s at or over capacity,” explained Sean Yeates, traffic resident engineer for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

The biggest challenge, Yeates said, is accommodating high volumes of commuter traffic upvalley in the morning and downvalley in the evening. The latter is particularly challenging, since the traffic is concentrated into 60 to 90 minutes instead of the 2 or 3 hours of crunch time in the morning.

To cope, Grand Avenue lights give priority to through traffic during peak hours, then dial back during the day.

“Every traveler is important,” Yeates said.

Even so, some find it difficult to turn onto Grand or cross it on foot. Tourists don’t always spot the crossing button, which must be pushed to initiate a pedestrian cycle.

Having cars and pedestrians in the intersection at the same time worries Police Chief Terry Wilson, who fondly remembers when traffic stopped completely and pedestrians could cross in all directions – a system commonly known as a “Pedestrian Scramble” or “Barnes Dance,” named for famed traffic engineer Henry Barnes.

Yeates says that sort of all way walk phase – or even just a dedicated pedestrian phase – is too inefficient for Grand Avenue.

“The time allotted to the different elements of the transit system is so precious that the Barnes Dance would not be realistic,” he said.

Specifically, such a cycle would cut green light time for Highway 82 from 65 percent to 55 percent, based on 2013 figures.

Although the bridge project may not increase the amount of traffic, it’s unlikely to decrease anytime soon. If engineering can’t ease congestion, perhaps drivers and pedestrians themselves can be part of the solution.

“I think both sides exhibit less patience than they need to for safety’s sake,” observed Wilson. “It all impacts each other.”

To start, there’s the general tone of driving on Grand Avenue.

“I think drivers stress themselves out a lot trying to drive competitively,” he said.

That includes trying to be the last one through a light or first off the line when it turns green, following too closely, or weaving through traffic in an effort to gain an extra 30 seconds on the commute through town.

At intersections, Wilson says, both sides are impatient. Pedestrians late to the curb or distracted by their phone often sprint across with seconds left in the cycle, risking an accident and disrupting turning traffic.

“They’re just looking at the numbers, but there’s also a red hand up that means you’re not supposed to enter the intersection,” Wilson said.

Wilson also suspects phones may have something to do with the frequency of rear end accidents when stoplights turn green and someone hits the gas before the cars in front of them have moved.

“Every distraction that reduces focus reduces safety,” he observed.

Even attentive drivers can cause trouble by inch into the crosswalk for a better view while they wait for a signal or an opening– something prohibited by law.

Pedestrians, for their part, often misapprehend the rule which requires cars to yield to pedestrians crossing the street – but not stop for someone on the curb.

“You don’t have to yield to them until they enter,” he said.

In a best case scenario, both parties should acknowledge each other before someone moves.

“The first thing we teach kids walking to school is to make eye contact with drivers,” Wilson said.

There’s also the strange middle ground bicycles occupy. Although they used to count as a pedestrian only when dismounted, new practice allows bicyclists to stay mounted through a crosswalk. Otherwise, they count as a car when they’re on the road– with all the same rights and responsibilities. That means stopping at stop signs and obeying the speed limit.

“You can’t have it both ways,” Wilson said.

Skateboards and rollerblades, meanwhile, always count as pedestrians and shouldn’t be on the street at all.

In the end, Wilson emphasized that Grand avenue is comparatively small potatoes.

“It still kind of cracks me up when we talk about our traffic travails over here, then I go over to the city for a weekend,” said Wilson. “Just back off, slow down, and be patient. It’s amazing how much nicer everyone’s trip through town can be with just a little courtesy.”