Village Voices: Pedestrian safety in Snowmass
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Pedestrian safety is not a new concern or topic of conversation in Snowmass Village.
It’s come up at several Town Council meetings over the past few months and, according to town officials, it’s been recognized as a key area for improvement over the past few years.
“Over the previous two years it’s been an overarching priority, so anytime the opportunity to improve presents itself, that’s what we try to do,” said Travis Elliott, assistant to the town manager, of pedestrian safety.
In Snowmass Village, there are no stoplights and few stop signs on the main roadways — Brush Creek, Owl Creek and Wood roads — that lead into the town’s main nodes: Town Park, Snowmass Center, Base Village and the Village Mall.
Along these wide roadways, which have speed limits as high as 35 miles per hour, there are some intimidating pedestrian crosswalks and areas difficult to navigate on foot or bike, including around Base Village and the main roundabout, as highlighted by local resident Mark Stout in this week’s “Town Talk.”
However, despite many “close calls,” Snowmass Police Chief Brian Olson recalls only one severe vehicle-pedestrian accident near the Brush Creek and Wood roads intersection about five years ago. It was not a fatality and there have been no severe accidents he knows of since.
Olson seemed like a logical first person to start with to respond to Stout’s statement, as he is in charge of ensuring and protecting public safety in the village.
According to Olson, reducing the speed limits in Snowmass wouldn’t do much to improve pedestrian safety. Drivers take in environmental cues to determine what speed feels natural, and Olson feels reducing the speeds of the town’s main, wide roadways would feel unnatural and result in speeding.
“If we establish a false speed limit, we’ll be fighting the public. … Most people tend to drive at a speed that feels comfortable and to find that sweet spot,” Olson said.
Olson also said stop signs or stoplights could increase traffic hazards in peak seasons, hence why the town has opted to pursue other traffic calming measures to help increase pedestrian and biker safety, like roundabouts; improved signage where trails cross roadways; and most recently the rectangular rapid flashing beacons at the Sinclair Road, Owl Creek Road and Faraway Road intersections with Brush Creek Road.
The new beacons, which pedestrians activate before entering the crosswalks by pushing a button to alert drivers, are the latest town effort to increase pedestrian safety, according to Anne Martens, town public works director.
Martens also seemed like an important source to speak with about crosswalks and roadways, as public works is responsible for their upkeep.
She said the public works department has completed several pedestrian safety enhancements along town crosswalks, trails and roadways over the past year, and has plans to improve the walkway between the Mountain View homes and the Village Mall, along with continue design work for a roundabout at the Owl Creek and Brush Creek roads intersection moving forward.
“Many of the town’s crosswalks aren’t at formal intersections so there are no stop controls, meaning it’s necessary for us to help with traffic calming measures,” Martens said.
In response to questions about pedestrian safety around Base Village and the main roundabout specifically, both Martens and Olson said they haven’t heard of many problems.
Both hinted that the mini roundabout adjacent to Base Village and the main roundabout isn’t the most ideal traffic calming measure, but works if drivers and pedestrians abide by the traffic rules in place.
That means the first vehicle to enter should proceed while the pursuant vehicles yield, and that pedestrians should use the designated crosswalks.
“It’s important for people to drive slowly; there’s a lot of activity in that area,” Martens said of the mini roundabout and roads adjacent to Base Village. “The current state of construction makes things more haphazard, but as things unfold we will have a clearer idea of what safety issues need to be addressed.”
In the winter especially, Martens and Olson feel the rapid flash beacons and increased pedestrian crossing signage will add to public safety, as painted crosswalk lines are less visible due to snow and ice cover.
Martens said the public works department is aware of the section of Wood Road adjacent to Base Village that gets icy due to building shadows, and staff diligently monitors and sands it throughout the season.
However, Martens said making the problem area a snowmelt section is not currently feasible, as it would require upsizing boilers, a major improvement.
Overall, Martens, Olson and Elliott said town officials are aiming to promote pedestrian safety and connectivity through things like the rectangular rapid flashing beacons, and in the various proposed future development projects, like the mall transit center and Snowmass Center.