Traffic test gets going near Steamboat Grand

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— A controversial test being conducted by the city that has caused concern among members of the Mountain Business Association began Wednesday near the entrance to the Steamboat Grand at Mount Werner Circle.
As part of an ongoing traffic test to determine how best to facilitate pedestrian use of the area around the new Steamboat Grand hotel, a group of planters were set up to force traffic into one lane at Mount Werner Circle.
The planters, filled with trees, are situated in front of the Grand across from the Ski Time Square parking structure preceded by orange cones. They block one lane of traffic on each side. The city will soon install flashing lights to warn motorists of the structures, said Public Works Director Jim Weber.
Weber said the city would have preferred to use snow to block off the lane, plowing only one lane of the road, but there simply wasn't enough snow to do the job.
The traffic test, which the city decided to conduct in conjunction with the opening of the Grand, may continue through April, Weber said.
The city is conducting the test under the premise that there is not enough vehicle traffic to necessitate the four lanes that currently run through Mount Werner Circle.
"We're doing this study to determine whether one lane in each direction can be accomplished without a drastic level of impact to traffic," Weber said.
Weber said the test may help the city figure out how to better facilitate pedestrian movement throughout the area, which was an important facet of the city's Mountain Town Sub-Area Plan.
A two-lane road, Weber said, would likely be easier to cross than the 48 feet of asphalt that make up the four-lane road that wraps around Mount Werner Circle.
The Mountain Business Association, however, has attempted to gain some control over a test it believes may impact member businesses. The group has hired a consultant who will review the results of the test with the city and members of the business community.
Anne Ricker of Leland Consulting presented some of the business association's concerns about the test to the City Council on Sept. 12, at which time the council decided on the final format of the test.
A surrogate of the business association called the Group of Seven, concerned about the impacts of the test on their businesses, wrote a letter to council noting its recommendations.
Among those recommendations was a request for the MBA to be able to provide input and help implement variables of the "fluid" test as it is conducted.
The group also recommended that the Snowflower Lot be closed to traffic during part of the test.
The group also wanted a sidewalk built across from the Grand, said MBA President Doug Terry.
The city, represented by City Manager Paul Hughes, wrote to City Council, telling them the city would not follow many of the MBA's recommendations, because the recommendations were not a part of the original agreement.
"Throughout the MBA's letter, there are references to the MBA or its surrogate, the 'Group of Seven,' controlling the test. This is simply not the case, nor has it ever been the city's position that anyone but the city would be in control," Hughes wrote.
Council members responded to the letter by stating the city should remain in control of the test but asserted a member of the Group of Seven should be part of the decision-making process.
"The majority of the MBA believed that they would be a part of the final decision because they are the merchants who are directly affected and have patiently relied on council," Terry said. Terry said a decrease in the level of traffic to the Ski Time Square area has already caused a decrease in business in the past year.
"If this would create more limits to that traffic it would hurt businesses even more," Terry said. "It's their livelihood that's at stake here."
Ulrich Salzgeber, the general manager of Alpine Taxi and part of the Group of Seven, said the city's response to the group's letter was based on a misunderstanding and that the group was still concerned about the possible results of the tests.
Salzgeber said while the city is concerned with the safety of the pedestrians in the area and their ability to perform city services such as snowplowing, the Group of Seven is also concerned about the potential effect on the tourism base in the community.
He said the city had asked for their recommendations but balked when it received them.
"We understood that it was our direction from him to draft a kind of a narrative of how we thought he should set up the test," he said. "We all have some preconceived notions, but we're trying to get beyond that and see the results of the test."
Salzgeber said his taxi service was impacted adversely by traffic lights installed a few years ago, causing delays to his routes.
He said similar changes to traffic patterns could have similarly adverse effects.
"If we make it more time-consuming to get to Steamboat, then the tourists are going to make other choices," he said.
Since the "misunderstanding," Hughes has said he is satisfied the test will go according to plan.
The city has already begun drafting a Request For Proposals for the test and will soon send out the RFP.
The test is going to be monitored over the week between Christmas and New Year's, on Presidents Day weekend and during one other weekend that has yet to be determined.
After the test is completed a committee composed of members of the city staff and the business community will evaluate the results and make its recommendations to the City Council.
"In the long run it's going to be a community issue," Weber said.

To reach Avi Salzman call 871-4203 or e-mail asalzman@amigo.net

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