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Traffic modifications made in Aspen’s West End to make walking, biking safer

Addition of four-way stop sign designed to improve pedestrian safety, but there are drawbacks, city engineer says

A line of cars stop at the all way stop sign on Eighth and Smuggler streets in the West End of Aspen during rush hour traffic Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

In response to resident concerns about pedestrian and bike safety due to high traffic volumes in Aspen’s West End neighborhood, the city has an added an all-way stop sign at Smuggler and Fourth streets, as well as permanently adding a route that’s off limits to cars traveling more than a block.

Aspen City Council last week approved the installation of the all-way stop sign, which is the 18th one of 45 signed intersections in the West End.

City Engineer Trish Aragon recommended to council that more observations be done at Fourth and Smuggler streets this summer to evaluate the safety of pedestrian and vehicle interactions.



The addition of the all-way stop is not meant to control or manipulate traffic.

“The intention of the stop sign is to protect pedestrian movement through the intersection,” Aragon said last week.




In the fall, council directed the engineering department to pursue a four-way stop at the intersection after listening to complaints throughout the summer from residents in the area.

They have asked, and demanded, that the city lighten the afternoon rush-hour traffic in which hundreds of vehicles exit town using side streets rather than Main Street.

The city engineering department got the go-ahead from council this past fall to spend $32,000 on a study to better understand vehicular movement that may lead to calming measures, like physical modifications of the street to control traffic volumes, and to improve pedestrian and bike safety.

Aragon told council then that it is important to know what the effects would be on other streets when changes are made to one.

That analysis will occur over the summer, when outbound traffic is at its peak in the afternoon, and more people are walking and riding bikes in the street.

Attorney Andrea Bryan, who represents concerned citizens who formed a nonprofit organization called the West End Pedestrian and Safety Group, said Thursday via email that the city’s efforts stop short of fully addressing the problem.

“The (safety group) has been frustrated by the city of Aspen’s slow response to a true traffic emergency in Aspen’s most iconic neighborhood,” she said. “While we are hopeful that having stop signs at every intersection along West Smuggler will help ameliorate the snarling traffic on that street, we expect the city of Aspen to take more meaningful action in the near future to solve this problem.”

Aragon, in a Jan. 11 memo to council, pointed out that many of the stop signs that have been installed in the West End were done in an attempt to deter and slow traffic.

But unfortunately, studies and engineering standards indicate that when stop signs are used in that manner it creates a high incidence of drivers intentionally violating the stop, she noted.

Stop signs can seem like an obvious, inexpensive way to reduce vehicle speeds; however, what seems to be a perfect solution can create a less desirable situation, Aragon said.

Speed reduction is effective only in the immediate area of the stop sign as a large percentage of motorists then increase their speed to make up for perceived lost time, which results in increased mid-block speeds.

“For these reasons, we do not use stop signs for speed control solutions,” Aragon wrote. “Instead, they must be warranted through a process to improve safety at intersections where traffic volumes, pedestrian volumes or accidents require their installation.”

In another move to improve safety for bicyclists and people walking in the West End, the city has permanently designated Lake Avenue as a pedestrian and bikeway, which means vehicles are not allowed to travel more than one block.

The city temporarily tried it last summer as an experiment and surveyed the community in various ways, with most of the feedback suggesting that people feel safer when traveling on foot or bike through the corridor, according to Carly McGowan, project manager in the city’s engineering department.

Negative feedback was mostly regarding confusing signage and concerns about traffic being pushing onto other streets, she added.

She also said many members of the West End Pedestrian Safety Group used the feedback outlets to provide input regarding traffic concerns on West Smuggler Street.

The Lake Avenue pedestrian and bikeway is the fourth such dedicated route in the West End and is part the city’s updated bicycle and pedestrian master plan.

Previously, the West End lacked a network of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, McGowan said.

The Hallam Street ped-bikeway, the Hopkins Street ped-bikeway and the Fourth Street pedway serve as east-west connections for bikers and pedestrians, and the Lake Avenue route will serve as the only north-south connection in the West End.

It serves as a connection for bikers and pedestrians to the music tent, physics center and Triangle Park, and ties into the greater pedestrian and bike network, according to McGowan.

The route begins at the intersection of Hallam and Garmisch streets near the Red Brick and terminates at the intersection of North and Fourth streets.

Over the course of the past three months, city staff has been observing the route, as well as gathering feedback from bikers, pedestrians, neighbors and other community members.

Based on that feedback, there will be a slight modification to the route. Instead of requiring a left turn onto North Street when heading north, the ped-bikeway continues straight onto Gillespie Street. It will terminate at Third Street in order to avoid conflict with the bus route that serves the West End and music tent.

McGowan said the Aspen Police Department is not equipped to monitor or enforce no driving on the new designated route but will respond to complaints and station an officer on the ped-bikeway when time allows, which is not daily.

csackariason@aspentimes.com

 


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