Pedestrian countdown coming to Steamboat

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— They've been a big hit among pedestrians in Aspen and Glenwood Springs, and now, they're coming to Steamboat Springs.

Steamboat is about to become one of just a handful of communities in Colorado to have a stoplight equipped with a countdown timer for pedestrians. The timers display the number of seconds remaining before the light changes, and allow people to know exactly how much time they have to cross busy intersections on foot.

Jim Nall of the Colorado Department of Transportation said Thursday he hopes to install at least one, and maybe two, of the "pedestrian countdown heads" at busy intersections in downtown Steamboat, perhaps as soon as late summer.

"We're really happy Steamboat's our next target city," Nall said. He is the Region 3 traffic safety manager based in Grand Junction. This region is the only part of the state putting the countdown devices into use. Other communities that already have them include Gunnison and Grand Junction, Nall said.

"We think it's pretty cool, and it's going to help people get across the street," Nall said. He thinks it will be particularly helpful for tourists visiting Steamboat, who aren't as familiar with local traffic regulations.

The countdown timer was designed to combat confusion about flashing Walk/Don't Walk signs and how much time a pedestrian has left to cross. The new timer is meant to show them they have ample time to get to the opposite curb.

Motorists traveling on U.S. 40 in Steamboat Springs this week might have had the eerie sensation that they were being watched. And for good reason.

The people standing at busy intersections this week with clipboards in hand were keeping records of turning movements made by motorists passing through intersections controlled by stoplights. It's all a part of a study being conducted jointly by the city of Steamboat and CDOT.

Public Works Director Jim Weber said the city is contributing $15,000 to the study, and Nall said CDOT is contributing a like amount. The study is intended to determine if the timing of stoplights on U.S. 40 through the city can be improved for both motorists and pedestrians.

"We're looking at the potential to maximize traffic light sequencing to allow pedestrian crossing and to provide the best opportunity for the state to move traffic through the downtown core," Weber said.

Nall said that 15 years ago the traffic signals on Lincoln Avenue were fairly easy to time to an efficiency rating of 75 to 80 percent. But because of increasing traffic volumes, that's no longer good enough.

"They need not just to be timed, but optimized," Nall said.

In addition to conducting automated traffic counts, Weber said the study will quantify motorists making turns on and off of U.S. 40 at the various intersections between Pine Grove Road and 13th Street. The people with clipboards are conducting that phase of the study.

A critical part of timing the stoplights involves taking into account traffic funneling onto the highway from each of the side streets, Nall said.

"It would be easy to coordinate 40, but we know we have to have a similar balance on the side streets," Nall said. Other variables that have to be taken into account include the fact that eastbound traffic is generally heavier in the morning, and westbound traffic is heavier in the afternoon, Nall said.

If the study is successful, it could begin a countdown to smoother traffic flow on U.S. 40.

To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210, or e-mail tomross@amigo.net

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