Our View: Safety a concern at US 40, Walton Creek

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Editorial Board, October 2009 through February 2010

  • Suzanne Schlicht, general manager
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Blythe Terrell, city editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Michelle Garner, community representative
  • Paula Cooper Black, community representative

Contact the editorial board at (970) 871-4221 or editor@steamboatpilot.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

On Friday night, tragedy struck the Steamboat Springs community when a pedestrian was hit by a car and seriously injured.

Steamboat Springs police have identified the 51-year-old man as resident William R. “Rick” Hagberg.

He remained in critical condition Tuesday at Denver Health Medical Center after the incident at U.S. Highway 40 and Walton Creek Road.

The driver was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and vehicular assault. No matter how the case turns out, we think the way traffic flows into that confusing intersection is inherently dangerous and deserves scrutiny.

For drivers coming west into Steamboat Springs, the speed limit on U.S. 40 decreases from 55 mph to 45 mph not far before Walton Creek Road.

Before the stoplight, a right lane begins, but drivers who move into it quickly see that it is a right-turn-only lane onto Walton Creek. After the light, U.S. 40 becomes two-lanes in both directions.

On the way east out of town, drivers have to keep an eye out for traffic merging onto U.S. 40 from Mount Werner Road. Immediately after they pass Walton Creek Road, the right lane becomes right-turn-only, and drivers going through must merge left.

Most confusing of all for eastbound motorists, particularly those from out of town, is the fact that typically on that stretch of the highway, the left lane is used by slower drivers and the right lane is used by faster drivers.

Drivers destined to make a left turn off the highway onto Walton Creek Road tend to occupy the left lane and begin slowing down long before the sign denoting a traffic light ahead comes into view. That causes motorists who are unfamiliar with local traffic patterns and are under the impression that they have left Steamboat behind to accelerate ahead in the right lane, often racing faster than the 45 mph speed limit as they approach the stoplight.

When the light turns green, they often race ahead once more when they realize the right lane has just turned into a right-turn-only lane.

Clearly, there’s a lot happening at U.S. 40 and Walton Creek. And as our community grows, traffic coming into and going out of town will continue to increase. Added to our concerns is a proposed senior campus that is likely to be built along Walton Creek Road near the intersection. That could increase foot and vehicle traffic in the area, and it’s crucial to make sure we do everything possible to make it safe.

The city doesn’t track accidents at that intersection, Public Works Director Philo Shelton said, because it’s Colorado Department of Transportation territory. A regional engineer for CDOT did not return a call seeking information about the intersection Tuesday afternoon. If that intersection hasn’t been studied recently for safety purposes, perhaps it’s time for the state agency to take a look at it.

A pedestrian underpass at the intersection does provide a safe way to cross U.S. 40. But as Friday’s incident shows, people don’t always use it. Human nature is to take the shortest and quickest route from point A to point B, and that’s not always the safest route.

In May, we saw fit, unfortunately, to write an editorial similar to this one. It was a response to the death of Bob Bear, who was hit by a pickup at U.S. 40 and Pine Grove Road. We encouraged city officials to look at solutions at that dangerous intersection.

We also asked the community to take steps to enhance safety. Those are worth repeating here.

■ Obey the law: Motorists must yield to pedestrians in marked and unmarked crosswalks. That means that when a pedestrian steps off the curb at Sixth and Lincoln or 10th and Lincoln, for example, motorists are required by law to allow them to cross. Cars in adjacent lanes cannot pass and overtake a car that is stopped to allow pedestrians to cross the road.

The same goes for pedestrians. When crossing at a signal, obey the “walk” and “don’t walk” commands. Pedestrians also can’t jump off the curb and expect motorists to see them and stop for them.

■ Increased signage: Cities such as Boulder have made concerted efforts throughout the past decade to be more pedestrian-friendly by installing signs that flash when pedestrians are present and remind motorists of the state law. Such signs would be a welcome sight in our community.

■ Increased enforcement: The Steamboat Springs Police Department and Routt County Sheriff’s Office should ramp up enforcement of the law as it pertains to motorist and pedestrian issues.

We as a community should strive to make the U.S. 40-Walton Creek crossroads safer. That starts with improving our driving habits, slowing down and remembering it’s a risky spot that requires constant vigilance on everyone’s part.

Comments

flower 4 years, 10 months ago

A local who was driving drunk was the problem.

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Troutguy 4 years, 10 months ago

Sounds like drunk driving. Also sounds like Mr.Hagberg tried to cross the highway against a red light. Neither party made a good decision on this one.

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sledneck 4 years, 10 months ago

Give me a break. Another sign? Thats what we need? More cops at the intersection? Get real. You can't swing a dead cat in this town without hittin a cop! Slowing down? If traffic moved any slower it would be in reverse. Step off a curve into oncomming traffic and expect "the law" to protect you? You gotta be s----in me pilot!

The intersection is fine if youre not drunk or j-walking. This society is becomming addicted to fixing everything. Can't anything just be a terrible accident without busy bodies trying to guarantee our safety from cradle to grave.

"The ultimate consequence of protecting men from their folly is to fill the world with fools."

We have forgotten the nursery rhymes we learned as kids... All the kings horses can't fix the entire world and even if they could we could not pay the tab!

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Dave McClure 4 years, 10 months ago

What we need is a test every two years for folks that drive. Drivers in this "burg"
drive to fast. They do not pay attention to their surroundings because they are on a cell phone. Drivers speed through yellow lights and will cross two lanes of heavy traffic just to get ahead of a line of cars. Do we need more police? Maybe. A sign would be nice, but it will not help. Drivers do not pay that much attention to signs. Our four mile main street is not an interstate. I could go on and on, but it would serve no purpose. So, back to the test. It should be able to tell a persons IQ. Anyone under a score of 120 should lose their license. This would solve the traffic problem.

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kathy foos 4 years, 10 months ago

My appreciation to the paper for bringing forth more safety information that could only help and the paper could have a weekly article for safety education ,to be better informed about any safety issue.The bike path crossing at Mt. werner and highway 40 seems very confusing and dangerous to me.I hope a person unfamiliar with how it works doesnt hit someone using the bike path.Because of the extreme snow driving conditions we are more vulnerable to accidents in Routt County.I am sure that a majority of people stay out of their vehicle while intoxicated,but what is up with you people that still do it?You are risking your life,your car,and the public saftey in whatever area you decide to drunk drive to.Stop doing it,you are not above the law,you will get caught eventually,go to AA.If you are driving drunk you are not in control of yourself and need help ,When a pedestrian is walking around at night in Routt County they are most likely to be very cold,very bundled up(effecting side vision)and in a hurry because they are freezing.Look out for them to make a mistake too,defensive slow driving in a sober condition and you still might wreck,but you know that you have done your part to stay out of the trouble,thats all you can do.

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jk 4 years, 10 months ago

commie, Maybe we need to check the iq of the people who are willing to step off the curb when they see headlights barreling down on them?? I have to agree with sled here people in all their self entitlement have forgotten the golden rule, (Gross Vehicle Weight Rules).

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Glenn Little II 4 years, 10 months ago

How about everybody has brakes in there car and blinkers but no one seems to use them in Steamboat. If I want to step in front of a car and sue the crap out of someone that is my choice. When someone is drinking alcohol and running people over that is there choice. The golden rule is treat others how you would like to be treated JK.. Get it straight numb skull.

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jk 4 years, 10 months ago

ski, "If I want to step in front of a car and sue the crap out of someone that is my choice" Thanks for proving my argument for me! I never condoned drunk driving anywhere. In my opinion it ranks right up there with stepping out into traffic on the stupid scale. Bye the way breaking your golden rule in your own post is pretty funny!!!

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sledneck 4 years, 10 months ago

Yes! If you want to step into traffic and sue thats YOUR business, no doubt.

If we want to run you over and claim we could not stop thats OUR business.

Now that we have established the ground rules lets get this little experiment started! Step off when you see me comming!

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Fred Duckels 4 years, 10 months ago

Fretting over one intersection may help our leaders demonstrate comcern, but I think that it ends there. We have Lincoln projected to handle all traffic, forever. Scientific thought usually starts by putting all options on the table and follow the path to an unknown conclusion. We have our conclusion, and exclude others to satisfy special interests and political agendas. During busy times Lincoln is a death trap that will not pass any safety or engineering concerns. Our leaders rufuse to look ahead intelligently but will always be willing to masquerade as visionaries when the inevitable happens. LIncoln will continue to be a problem, but with luck we will always find someone to blame.

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