Council talks buses, sidewalks

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During a discussion about transportation on Tuesday, City Council members agreed that they would like to try running a downtown circulator bus in the summer.

Expansion of bus service was one of several topics that council members discussed with city staff as part of the policy topic meeting that focused mostly on transit service and parking.

George Krawzoff, the city's director of transit and transportation services, presented a list of several bus routes that residents wanted to see added to Steamboat Springs Transit's services. Krawzoff stressed that each route would cost up to hundreds of thousands of dollars to add.

"The question is what's your appetite folks, and to what level?" Krawzoff said.

The council voiced the strongest support for a bus that would provide frequent pick-up and drop-off service downtown. It likely would run from the Stock Bridge Transit Center to Third Street.

Council member Paul Strong said the service probably would work in the summertime because it would be easier to find drivers. He also hoped the bus could help ease parking problems downtown.

Council member Loui Antonucci also spoke in support of the circulator bus, but he was concerned that people would not ride it.

"I'm afraid that it will fail miserably," Antonucci said. "Somehow, we have to promote this."

Council member Towny Anderson said he supports the downtown bus, but he thinks that the city should promote it by requiring city employees to use the bus instead of parking downtown. Anderson said that perhaps the county could make the same requirement, and that Main Street Steamboat Springs officials could ask downtown business owners to have their employees do the same.

"We need to give ourselves every opportunity for success," Anderson said.

Council President Ken Brenner agreed with that idea.

"I think it's important that the city lead by example," Brenner said.

Krawzoff presented several funding mechanisms for route expansion, including general fund monies, a countywide sales tax, a rural transportation authority sales tax, an entertainment tax, fares, a lodging tax, a voluntary lodging contribution and various forms of advertising. Krawzoff said the most logical choice would be an entertainment tax, which could involve lift tickets.

Strong agreed that the entertainment tax was the most feasible idea.

"It's the only one that I see that has any real legs," Strong said.

Anderson said he didn't have a problem with the entertainment tax, but he also thought the city should allocate more money to Steamboat Springs Transit from the general fund.

"If we're gong to change behavior, we're going to have to invest in it," Anderson said.

As part of the transit discussion, council members also discussed the city's shortage of bus drivers. Steamboat Springs Transit is not meeting desired service levels because there are not enough drivers to provide it.

Council members gave Krawzoff direction to begin an international recruiting process. The city hired Australian drivers in the 2000-01 season with some success.

Anderson said that he understood that transit officials must fix the driver shortage in the short term, but he thought that international recruiting was not a long-term solution. He said city officials should look more deeply at the reasons why there is a driver shortage.

"I think we need to get to the root causes. We're not going to be able to keep up with it."

Chris Wilson, the city's director of Parks, Open Space and Recreation, also presented the Sidewalk Master Plan draft to the council. The document proposes about $10.8 million in new sidewalk links and pedestrian bridges. An estimated $3 million would be covered by development, but city officials would have to find a way to fund the other projects, should they decide to move forward with them.

Council members discussed several issues related to sidewalks, including residents' concerns that sidewalks lead schoolchildren to bus stops. They also talked about keeping trees in place and making sidewalks useable for people with disabilities.

The council agreed to send the sidewalk plan back to the Planning Commission for discussion, and noted that school district officials, as well as residents, could attend that meeting. No date has been set.

Council members also talked about traffic management. They directed Jim Weber, public works director, to focus negotiations with developers on traffic standards and the city's goal to make Steamboat easy for pedestrians to use.

Throughout the meeting, Anderson stressed that city officials need to work to make the community more pedestrian-friendly.

"We need to meet that challenge," Anderson said.

-- To reach Dana Strongin, call 871-4229

or e-mail dstrongin@steamboatpilot.com

The council:

Heard a presentation about financial options for the urban renewal authority, which is financed by future property tax and sales tax growth within the URA boundaries.

Learned that George Krawzoff, the city's director of transit and transportation services, will serve as interim deputy city manager while the search for a city manager continues.

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