Steamboat Springs Editor's note: This story has been updated from its original version. PBS&J was not involved in the MainStreet Steamboat Springs study.
MainStreet Steamboat Springs Manager Tracy Barnett summed it up: "It's the question on everybody's lips: What can be done about the traffic?"
Her group, which aims to promote and enhance downtown Steamboat Springs, brought in a resource team to approach downtown Steamboat Springs with an eye toward how MainStreet should move forward with its plans - focusing on traffic and transportation issues.
The team's report lends credence to common complaints about traffic flow and drivers' attitudes, noting that traffic is "perceived as being too aggressive" and that "it's difficult to cross the street." MainStreet gave copies of the report to the Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday.
Key concerns swirl around Steamboat's east-west thoroughfare: U.S. Highway 40.
Crowds flooded sidewalks along that road's downtown stretch, Lincoln Avenue, to enjoy the Friday afternoon sunshine and sidewalk sales.
"The highway is the Achilles heel of the town," resident Bob Vanderbeek said. "I think we know that."
Vanderbeek, who had to lean in to hear and be heard over the traffic din, said he thought the problem was traffic passing through rather than local vehicles. He offered a theory on when things might get better.
"My ultimate cynicism is that when gas is up to five or six bucks, it'll all slow down," he said.
Barnett expressed her own frustration with drivers' get-there-now attitudes, providing an anecdote: "I watched a guy crossing the street; I know he has (multiple sclerosis). He was going across at Seventh Street. He has the elbow crutches. He got halfway across the street, the light changed and people would not let him get across the street. : It's common courtesy."
In its report, the resource team recommends adding crosswalk lights in all directions at all intersections with lights and suggests they are "timed to allow the pedestrians to move at a comfortable rate of 3 feet per second to cross the street." The study stated that only crosswalks in the downtown center approach that timing.
The team includes Jane Jenkins, executive director of the Downtown Boulder Business Improvement District; Scott Day, an architecture and design expert with Urban Design Specialists; John Miller, an economic restructuring expert with Plan B Development; Stephanie Redman, an organizational expert with TBD Consulting; and Katherine Correll, the report coordinator and executive director of the Colorado Community Revitalization Association.
Steamboat has been working on a streetscape redesign that would aim to address some of the concerns for pedestrians, but it has been "sort of put on hold," Barnett said, while the city examines the needs of downtown.
The city's Public Works Department has commissioned a traffic study to look at the flow on Lincoln Avenue from Third to 13th streets, Public Works Director Philo Shelton said. He expects the results late next month.
Because U.S. 40 is a federal road, anything the city does must follow federal guidelines, Shelton said.
The Colorado Department of Transportation also has weighed in. For example, the MainStreet team recommended the city continue to pursue an additional traffic light at 11th Street and Lincoln, but CDOT has said the city should remove the light at Eighth Street if it adds one at 11th.
"We need to find out what we can do and what we can't do, or how much we can push," Barnett said. "It may be their road, but it is our town. There has to be some kind of compromise as far as getting people through town."
Shelton said CDOT has looked at traffic flow and light timing. Adding a signal at 11th could hinder traffic progress unless the light at Eighth is dropped, he said. There are signals on Lincoln downtown at Third, Fifth, Seventh, Eighth and Ninth streets, he said, as well as one at 13th.
Shelton explained how traffic progression works: "Do you ever get stuck at a light and you're maybe the eighth car? When the light turns green, it takes a little time for everyone to accelerate. If you have (a signal) at every block, the first car is hitting the eighth car stopped in the next block. That's why having some space helps."
And then there's money. CDOT will replace the pavement on Lincoln Avenue from Third to 13th and will redo some ramps, Shelton said. The city has some money to use for the downtown area.
"We're always looking for funding for transportation projects. : We don't have enough to do the whole downtown, by any means," he said. "It's a pretty large project. There's always issues with getting enough funding - it's pretty much a statewide issue."
Adding a bypass also has been suggested. The MainStreet resource team said this: A bypass, in addition to being costly, would "result in more sprawl : and would take 10 years to construct."
What can be done now
Residents and visitors can help by leaving their cars behind, Shelton said.
"One thing I'd advocate is occasionally use transit, and if you can't get to your destination by transit, think about carpooling or using other options," he said. "A lot of people think you have to do it every day, but if you do it only one day a week, you're cutting your trips by 20 percent. "
From Barnett's perspective, improving traffic is about personal responsibility.
"I think it would be pretty awesome if we could get people to even go the speed limit instead of going over it or going through red lights or yellow lights," she said. "I think that might be a campaign we'll get on is friendly driving - getting people to obey the rules."