Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs City Council President Kevin Bennett says it is time to take a fresh look at the traffic impact Emerald Park is having on the homeowners on Pamela Lane.
The new park and its access from the dead-end residential street was the subject of exhaustive debate during public hearings for about three years in the mid-'90s. Today, the park is used heavily in the summer by local youth soccer and baseball teams. Its parking lot also is close to the Yampa River Botanical Park and represents the primary means of access for people who drive there to view the gardens.
Homeowners repeatedly urged City Council to develop an alternative access to the park before it opened. Ultimately, in June 1996, City Council held firm to its position that Pamela Lane is a public street leading to a public park, and it would not be in the public's best interest to fund an expensive alternative route. Emerald Park opened in the fall of that year.
Bennett told fellow council members this week he visited the park and Pamela Lane last summer, and was taken aback by the amount of traffic using the road, which is less than a quarter of a mile long.
"I've now changed my position," Bennett said. "I now believe that this is a radical impact on that neighborhood. It goes beyond what any of us expected. It didn't turn out the way we thought, and it's time to acknowledge it."
Bennett asked the council if it would be willing to take up the alternative access issue again during budget talks later this year. Council informally agreed. Bennett pointed out that developing alternative access is going to be at least as expensive as it was in 1996 and suggested council might have to begin by putting away money toward that goal.
Director of Parks, Open Space and Recreation Chris Wilson said this week he believes the new soccer fields under construction at Heritage Park, west of Steamboat, will alleviate some of the pressure on Emerald Park. But he acknowledged that Emerald will remain attractive because it is centrally located.
City Councilman Jim Engelken knows first hand what the traffic on Pamela Lane is like he lives there. But he chooses his words very carefully when discussing the situation. He says he wants to avoid even the perception that he has a conflict of interest and is pushing for the change.
"When it came through, I was fully supportive of what we did," Engelken said. "And I agree with Kevin that (use of the street to get to the park) is more intensive than what we expected. But I've been absolutely silent."
He's aware that residents of other areas of the city have been impacted by increases in traffic as well, Engelken said.
"We all pay a price for where we live," Engelken said.
During the lengthy series of public hearings about Emerald Park, the city promised it would reserve its soccer and baseball fields for events involving local youngsters as opposed to sporting events intended to bring tourists to Steamboat.
The city has allowed Steamboat youth sports teams to host visiting teams at Emerald Park. However, it rejected the argument by organizers of Triple Crown softball tournaments who contended that if any Steamboat youth teams are involved in their regional and national tournaments, Triple Crown should be able to scheduled its tournaments on the Emerald playing fields.
Even with strict limitations on how visiting sports teams can use the fields, the amount of use in the park, and the amount of traffic it generates, is substantial, Bennett said. The city has used community service officers to help control traffic on tournament weekends.
This summer, the three seasonal speed bumps on Pamela Lane were increased to four, and their height was raised.
Cooper Barnett said people had figured out that if they didn't reduce their speed, they could cruise over the old speed bumps and feel less of a jolt than they did at 15 mph. Barnett and his wife, Tracy, were the first couple to purchase a home on Pamela Lane in 1981. They barely notice anymore when a coal train passes nearby, but they do notice the amount of vehicle traffic.
"This used to be a quiet neighborhood where kids would play ball in the street," he said.
Tracy isn't certain it's because of the traffic to and from the park, but she said people don't spend as much time out in front of their homes as they used to, and they don't have neighborhood picnics as often as they used to. She added that because she and Cooper spend long hours running their business, Mazzola's Restaurant, they aren't at home as much as many of their neighbors, and for that reason the traffic doesn't have as big an impact on them.
"It's just three hours every day that it's bumper-to-bumper traffic," Tracy said. For the nearly nine months of the year that the park is closed, the neighborhood returns to a quiet state. But during the summer months, Pamela Lane can be a bit of a zoo.
The Barnetts say they often see tourists drive down Trafalgar Drive and instead of making a left turn onto Pamela, they continue straight and begin driving down the Yampa River Core Trail.
"Once they get in there, it's pretty hard to back out," Cooper observed. Other vehicles, including over-the-road tour buses, drive down Pamela Lane not realizing it dead-ends at the parking lot for the park. They turn around and parade back down the street when they realize they can't go anywhere on the road.
Most of the time though, it's just traffic from Steamboat soccer and baseball moms and dads dropping their young athletes off for practice. Each practice usually involves four trips down the street, two to drop off and two to pick up, Tracy said. She also said that people are fond of leaving in the middle of a game to pick up a few things at the grocery store, adding two more trips along the street. Most of the time, she doesn't see more than two people in each car that passes down the street.
The worst incident the Barnetts ever experienced occurred as they returned home from a weekend near Cheyenne, Wyo., in their motor home. They needed to drive just past their own driveway on the west side of the street in order to back into the RVs parking space on their property. But the traffic was so heavy that people immediately backed up behind them.
"The traffic behind us wouldn't let us back up," Tracy recalled. "People laid on their horns and gave us the finger. I thought, wait a minute, I live here!"
To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org