Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs On Tuesday evening, local gadfly Bill Jameson challenged the Steamboat Springs City Council to be visionary in redesigning Lincoln Avenue through downtown Steamboat Springs.
The council at first agreed.
But then - perhaps because of the shock of concurring with Jameson - council members were suddenly overcome by a wave of myopia limiting their vision to the tip of their collective noses.
Let's hope it's a temporary loss of vision.
As most know by now, the Colorado Department of Transportation is going to repave Lincoln Avenue from Third to 13th streets during fall 2009 and spring 2010. The project presents the city with a challenge and an opportunity.
The challenge will be for residents and downtown businesses to practice patience during two seasons of noise, blocked lanes, detours and closed roads that will make current downtown construction headaches seem like a Moab, Utah, vacation.
No doubt Steamboat successfully will meet the challenge.
The opportunity is for our city leaders to make Lincoln Avenue safer and more pedestrian-friendly by changing the existing outdated lane configuration and upgrading to current federal lane width standards while making use of state and federal dollars now instead of tapping city coffers later.
Unfortunately, when that opportunity was pitched to the current roster of council members Tuesday by CDOT, the council whiffed.
Perhaps their ability to see the pitch clearly was impaired by the blinding array of recommended traffic improvements presented earlier in the evening by an outside team of traffic consultants.
Those suggestions include moving the traffic light at Eighth Street to 11th Street, coordinating traffic signals to improve traffic speed, creating bus bays at the far side of intersections, creating painted bike lanes on Oak, Yampa, Fifth and 11th streets, creating intersection curb bulbs to narrow pedestrian crosswalks by extending curbs to the width of parking lanes and making Third Street one way between Oak and Pine streets.
Each of these recommendations looked good during one of many mind-numbing PowerPoint presentations the council was assaulted with in a room far from the reality of pedestrian, bike and driver behavior compounded by Steamboat's seven-month winters. But, will these changes truly make a meaningful difference in traffic conditions, or might they fall prey to the law of unforeseen consequences?
Could intersection curb bulbs actually inhibit snow removal and make pedestrian crossings more difficult during winter?
Could bus bays actually impede traffic with the back of the bus hanging into traffic?
Could designated bike lanes - that further reduce downtown parking - prove impractical given seven-month winters and bikers' pre-existing right to use any street?
Could timed lights for improved traffic speed be negated by cars parallel parking and buses moving in and out of bus bays?
Could moving traffic off Third Street just push congestion deeper into residential areas on Fourth and Fifth streets?
Still, it's hard to fault the council for grasping at straws as traffic conditions downtown deteriorate. What is perplexing is why council declined to consider a bold - indeed visionary - opportunity to make Lincoln Avenue safer and more pedestrian-friendly when the opening was presented by CDOT on Tuesday.
The chance to widen the traffic lanes - albeit with the loss of parking or the center turn lane - is one the council should not so easily dismiss as it did Tuesday evening by directing city Public Works Director Philo Shelton to not consider lane changes as part of the repaving project.
Perhaps the council was too overwhelmed with CDOT engineer Van Pilaud's warning that if the council changes any lane width it will have to comply with federal lane width standards for all lanes and thereby lose parking and/or the center turn lane. That's a daunting prospect that would force the council to truly be visionary and not punt the problem to a future council. Yet, the reality is that Lincoln Avenue between Third and 13th is a dangerous road growing more dangerous all the time, Pilaud said.
Pilaud, while noting the existing parking and traffic lane widths create a hazard for all who use Lincoln Avenue, referred to the center turn lane as "Suicide Island" and stated that anyone parking on Lincoln Avenue is taking their life in their hands.
Pilaud repeatedly urged the council to use this re-construction opportunity to think long-range and consider making changes now. It will be 30 years before CDOT returns for a major overhaul of Lincoln Avenue. And while it's true that lane configurations could be adjusted in the intervening years, it then would be the city's substantial expense to cover.
But here's the good news. Nothing that happened Tuesday is final. The council has until October to regain its vision.
Let's hope it does.
Rob Douglas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org