council creates Snow King Speedway

In this simulation provided by an out-of-town consultant, a motorist shaves 6.7 seconds off the drive along Snow King Avenue with a new crossing of Flat Creek.

Like a lost tourist late for the Cache Creek wagon tour, the Jackson Town Council doesn’t seem to know where it’s going, but it’s determined to get there faster.

Twenty seconds faster.

Trying to devise a transportation plan for Snow King Avenue, councilors stepped on the gas last month and, despite public opposition, voted to remove stop signs at three intersections. Four-way stops at Cache Drive, Millward Street and Flat Creek Drive will become two-way, turning Snow King Avenue into an unchecked thruway from Virginian Lane to Snow King Resort.

In doing so, the council placed the needs of motorists ahead of cyclists and pedestrians, choosing speed over neighborhood character and safety. The road cuts through a residential area chock full of kids’ amenities, including the Amaze’n Maze, Teton Boulder Park, Phil Baux Park, Snow King Ski Area, King Tubes and Teton County Fairgrounds.

Moreover, the vote slams into reverse years of progress in making the town streets more conducive to nonmotorized transport.

All for fewer than 20 seconds saved during peak travel times.

Mayor Mark Barron and Councilor Greg Miles pushed for the removal, and not surprisingly, Mark Obringer and Melissa Turley went along with them.

Only Bob Lenz was the voice of reason. “I think we stick with it the way it is,” he said, per the News&Guide. “I think it works very well for everybody right now.”

Asked last night to reconsider and put off a decision until after a planned public forum on the corridor, the council didn’t so much as pause to slow down.

Stop signs will be removed on Snow King Avenue beginning at this intersection with Flat Creek Drive. Motorists won't have to stop until Snow King Resort.

At issue is a roughly mile-long, two-lane road that serves as the town’s main bike route and a secondary east-west connector. Traffic tends to back up when schools let out or around 5 p.m., but primarily on the west side.

Councilors made their decision during a workshop Jan. 17, based on a report by Colorado consultants hired by the town for $10,000. The firm, Felsburg Holt and Ullevig, studied the east-west Snow King-Maple Way corridor in August, when traffic volumes are heaviest.

Consultants found that if all stop signs along the corridor were removed, including at the congested Scott Lane and Powderhorn Lane intersections, motorists would save about a minute traveling the entire length. Removing signs at the three intersections chosen by the council will reduce the drive time by 19.8 seconds during the evening rush, according to the report. At the morning peak, motorists will save a total of 15.2 seconds.

These estimates are based on vehicle statistics in August, the only time considered by consultants, a fact Obringer noted in expressing reservations. Tram Whitehurst of the News&Guide reports:

… Councilor Mark Obringer also said he was wary of the changes. He said traffic on Snow King and Maple Way is generally only an issue for a few months out of the year, and the changes could put pedestrians and bicyclists at increased risk.

‘We have an issue that is for 100 days of summer,’ Obringer said. ‘The rest of the time, you can go out there any time and have no issues whatsoever. It seems like it’s a lot of effort for one minute.’

But as has been all too typical throughout his tenure, Obringer voted in lockstep with the mayor, anyway.

Reached by phone and pressed to explain his rationale, Miles said the move is part of an effort to plan ahead for more traffic in five to 10 years. The next step is to build a roundabout at Scott Lane. “I’m trying to be proactive,” he stressed.

Told that the savings from removing three stop signs will amount to fewer than 30 seconds, he said, “I don’t care about 30 seconds.” Rather, his goal is to improve the “general efficiency of traffic,” he said.

Contacted by email, Turley wrote, “I stand behind the Council’s decision as being in the best interest of our community.” Besides removing stop signs, the town will improve pedestrian markings at the intersections and increase enforcement of speed and crosswalks, she said. Staff will study the changes and see if they are an improvement. Traffic on Snow King Avenue will double or triple when the five-way intersection at Broadway is rebuilt, she wrote.

The intersection at Cache provides access to Snow King Ski Area, tubing park, ball field and maze, all hubs for kids. Instead of pulling stop signs, we should be adding another at Snow King and Willow, main entrance to the ice rink.

The timing and manner of the council’s decision caught many residents off guard. The vote came during a workshop, not an official meeting, with no “action item” listed on the agenda. Furthermore, anyone who planned to speak in opposition was given a detour, as the council shuffled the agenda at the last minute and took up the matter nearly an hour sooner than advertised.

Several residents who did show in time spoke in opposition, including Reed Armijo, an engineer, and Joe Burke, who lives off Virginian Lane. Franz Camenzind, a resident from the west end of Snow King Avenue, submitted a six-page letter outlining his objections. Camenzind pointed out many flaws in the study, including the failure of consultants to take into account types of use along the corridor, including kids’ recreation and START buses.

No one at the meeting spoke in favor. Jennifer Truman wrote a letter in opposition. Friends of Pathways gave a tepid statement advocating safety.

Camenzind later added, “I feel betrayed by the process.”

While voting to remove stop signs from the three east-side intersections where congestion is not a problem, councilors put off a decision on what to do with the west side, where traffic counts and wait times are much higher. Councilors went ahead with the vote before holding a planned public forum on the corridor.

Even Bob McLaurin, town administrator, said afterward, “I was a little surprised they moved as quickly as they did.”

From left to right: Barron, Miles, Obringer and Turley. The idea for removing stop signs originated with Barron, who persuaded Miles it was a good idea.

Nearly 20 years ago, the town came up with a plan to straighten out the Scott Lane intersection, and voters approved tax funding to purchase the land. But after buying homes, the town opted to rent them to employees and abandoned the realignment plan with no real explanation.

In November, as the council first considered the consultants’ report, a News&Guide editorial argued against removing stop signs, warning that “increased efficiency would come at the expense of pedestrian and cyclist safety and degrade residential neighborhoods. Why would a council upend neighborhood safety and tranquility for the convenience of others?”

Four-way stops help calm and regulate the flow of traffic, especially when there’s congestion. Powderhorn Lane, the busiest intersection studied, would be a nightmare without an orderly progression dictated by the stop signs. Better yet, picture Pearl and Millward without a four-way stop.

The traffic backup along the west end of Snow King Avenue is perhaps the greatest incentive in summer for leaving the car at home. Friends of Pathways used to stage a race pitting a cyclist against a driver, and it wasn’t even close: Bikers traverse the corridor much faster.

Lenz defends neighborhood.

Broadway remains the fastest way to drive across town. With five lanes and a speed limit of 35 mph, it was designed to handle the bulk of traffic.

The 25 mph speed limit on Snow King Avenue will not change, but motorists will have an easier time exceeding it, although Miles seems to think drivers will follow the law out of community spirit.

Proponents on the council point to increased enforcement and crosswalks. Just what we need: more cops along Snow King! And crosswalks, no matter how visible, are a joke in car-centric Wyoming. I’ve nearly been run over three times this winter stepping out on Maple Way near Cafe Boheme and Jackson Family Dentistry. But it’s not me I’m worried about.

When the signs are removed, perhaps this spring, westbound motorists will reach the congested Scott Lane intersection quicker. As one knowledgeable observer noted, it’s like feeding a 2-inch-wide pipe into a 1-inch pipe. Backups will be even more pronounced.

Meanwhile, as the east side of Snow King Avenue becomes a steady stream of traffic at peak times, motorists and pedestrians on cross streets will have to dash through brief openings. The first time a kid, or a pet, or one of the foxes denning in Karns Meadow, for instance, is hit by a car, we’ll know who to call.

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Posted under Politics, Town Government

26 Comments so far

  1. Rob Weinstein February 8, 2012 7:56 am

    Take away stop signs? Really? You almost had me with this one…I almost took this seriously. Then I read the part about the town putting in a roundabout. The thought of the summer masses trying to navigate a roundabout made me realize that this is just pre-game for the NaG’s april fools article. Funny as shit.

  2. D February 8, 2012 9:14 am

    Well since it is 2012 I would guess you could use one of those fancy changing light systems. It would address the problem when needed, and leave it the way it is the rest of the time. They are operating under the assumption they only have two options, stop sign or no stop sign.

  3. GCA February 8, 2012 9:41 am

    As an east Jackson resident and someone that has patiently engaged in the long and drawn out comp plan process, as someone that supports the direction of the plan to add residents, residences, vibrancy and density to the town, and as someone that supports the work of the council to make the town a more high functioning, diverse, and pedestrian and family friendly place, this decision surprises and disappoints me. I appreciate reading both sides to this issue but in the end, it seems the council prioritized the car over the pedestrian and the biker. I sincerely hope this is not the last we hear of this issue. I hope that the council will at a minimum table this decision until the five way reconstruction requires some alternative TEMPORARY action and mitigation.

  4. Heather Mathews February 8, 2012 10:26 am

    Thanks for doing this story!

  5. K B February 8, 2012 10:37 am

    Finish the damn town pathway !

  6. NB February 8, 2012 10:58 am

    Good story! Are they going to make Snow King a double lane road next, so we can fly by each other and potentially save 25 seconds off our commute? Seems illogical to compromise ease of use for pedestrians so that people can save 20 second on a commute.

  7. Mark February 8, 2012 11:50 am

    I commute via snow king ave every day. I have always been annoyed by the number of stops every couple hundred yards (especially when I’m biking). I’m a proponent of roundabouts. I’ve lived in communities that utilize roundabouts and they efficiently move traffic while slowing speeds through intersections. Although I’m in favor of removing the stop signs, it’s surprising they’re not waiting for the roundabouts to be installed before removing them.

  8. js February 8, 2012 1:45 pm

    I’m open to the idea of roundabouts at Scott and Powderhorn lanes, and I’m all for making tough, forward-looking transportation choices. (Like the North Bridge over the Snake, but that’s for another post.)
    I just drove Snow King Avenue from Maple Way and Powderhorn, and I can’t see the logic in removing these stop signs on the east end. As a motorist, I’m happy to be inconvenienced and sacrifice 15 to 20 seconds to make everyone else’s trip safer.
    For potential mitigation, the council discussed a variety of measures, like signage, bulb-outs, improved marking of crosswalks, electronic signs, speed bumps and even a dip like at Karns and Willow (spare us). Or, you could just leave in the existing signs!
    All hope is not dead: There is one more chance to make your voice heard, when the council considers the official resolution at 6 p.m. Feb. 21. I will post a reminder as we get closer to the date, but if you can’t make the meeting, please call or send an email to the council (see Rise Up tab at top) or just leave a comment here.
    The more the Snow King corridor becomes unfriendly for kids to walk and bike, the more their parents will drive them to these recreational amenities, the more traffic we will have, the more steps the council will take (4 lanes?) to accommodate cars. Pretty soon, we’ll be living on Long Island.

  9. jeremy February 8, 2012 2:43 pm

    As someone who bikes all over town on a year round basis I think the removal of the stop signs is a stupid idea, especially because of the perceived importance given to vehicles over pedestrians and bicyclists safety. Perhaps more people should bike or ride public transit and thus avoid the long lines in the afternoon on SK…. I always enjoy pedaling past as many sit idling in their cars. And removing the signs just to save 20 seconds?? Nice article JS.
    Go Heels!!

  10. Renee February 8, 2012 5:21 pm

    I live on Aspen drive and have to cross over Snow King on a daily basis to access town and know from personal experience you will be creating some extremely hazardous intersections for anyone trying to cross Snow King. At night on foot crossing Snow King is going to be a nightmare. Mark Barron lives a few doors down from me and will also have to cross the same intersection daily so I would think he’s observed the amount of traffic and realizes the potentially dangerous situation he is putting us all in.

  11. dswift February 8, 2012 6:12 pm

    Only fair that cars get to sail through those intersections the way we bicyclists do.

  12. Brad February 8, 2012 7:43 pm

    Ha Ha. Swift, you nailed it. I have to laugh at all the nobility attached to all the bicyclists and their ease of transit on the route in question just the way it is. Like THEY always stay in their lanes and THEY always obey the stop signs. Sheesh. I may have used a broad brush there, but still. Wait. David, you weren’t being funny or sarcastic…were you?

  13. mmcd February 8, 2012 9:33 pm

    I kinda liked when the right-of-way was Kelly Ave–>Flat creek–>Snowking (all without stopping!!), but the new plan makes more sense. They will have to add a few serious crosswalks (with lights), and bulk up those bike lanes. At least now bikers can legally cruise through those intersections without having to wait for overly-accommodating-drivers at each of them. As a bicyclist, I am happy to keep my speed without having to watch out for the cops.

  14. Woolly February 8, 2012 9:56 pm

    Great article, but I support the removal of these stop signs (and also straightening out the Scott Lane intersection). Vehicular traffic is by far the primary use of Snow King. I do support building an alternative bike path though.

    I am also in agreement with dswift and Brad, bicyclists’ consistent failure to abide by traffic laws undercuts their position. I’ve always been supportive of Pathways but their recent opposition to a proposed federal ban on biking on roadways where a separate bike path is available has severely marginalized them in my view.

    I am in agreement with you about the North Bridge, looking forward to that article!

  15. bt February 8, 2012 10:43 pm

    I’ve had the same problem at the crosswalk on Maple Way near Cafe Boheme. I’ve even had police officers blow by me while waiting to cross there and on N. Cache by the Visitor’s Center. Crosswalks should be enforced better!

  16. Rob Weinstein February 9, 2012 5:44 am

    What about putting a yield sign or something like that up? If there’s a yield to pedestrians sign at the crossing(s) isn’t that just as enforceable as a stop sign, ticket wise?

    I know it brings more cops but f*ck. Let them do something important like protect the unprotected, rather than give people speeding tickets for six miles over down broadway.

    I don’t think the real problem here is the bikers, however. It’s the fact that people are going to f*cking zoom down snow king. I think it’s habit to steadily drive faster when there are no stoppages…

  17. whaaa February 9, 2012 6:52 am

    Up next: removing that stupid stop sign at Hansen and S. Gros Ventre.

    Seriously tho Bob Lenz is right. The speedway needs to stay on Broadway, regardless of what ever kind of five-way intersection / contraption Whydot envisions for the bubbas/ Ace Hardware / Hoback Sports intersection. Fyi – Wydot always cites ‘safety’ as a means to change the intersection. Crash stats show a 15mph motorist speed – not much of an accident making kerfuffle if you ask me.

    And, by the way, Wyoming legislature passed a law for cyclists similar to that found on the books in Idaho. Stop signs are no longer mandatory for those who are traveling on a 30 lb bicycle. If you are driving a 4,000 lb car, you still have to stop.

  18. Wascally_Wabbit February 9, 2012 9:44 am

    Yeah but will they allow dogs on Snow King Drive? That’s the question.

  19. Mike Geraci February 9, 2012 3:39 pm

    Jim – I’m doing a little work with Friends of Pathways and wanted to respond to your “tepid statement” call out…

    While perceptions might be that stop signs control speeds and make streets safer, the data doesn’t support the hypothesis. I’ll link to a collection of studies by the Institute of Traffic Engineers, but first here are the main findings pulled from an abstract from 70 technical papers on multi-way stop signs by the professionals:

    * Multi-way stop signs do not control speeds nor do they reduce speeds on residential streets, especially in this instance when the distance between stop signs is so great.
    * Some studies show that speeds actually increase as motorists attempt to make up time lost to “unnecessary” stop signs.
    * Stop signs do not significantly change safety of an intersection, and, safety of pedestrians is decreased at unwarranted multi-way stops, especially for small children. It seems that pedestrians expect vehicles to stop at the stop signs but many vehicles have gotten in the habit of running the “unnecessary” stop sign.
    * Removal of multi-way stop signs does not change speeds but speeds are slightly lower without the stop signs.
    * Neighborhood impacts of stop signs include increased noise due to braking and accelerating, and increased pollution from exhaust. That would be bad.
    * What Swift said…(although not in the abstract)

    And, there’s more at…
    http://www.ite.org/search/results.asp?q=stop%20signs

    Great conversation to have. Good to have some data to inform it.

    MG

  20. andy z February 9, 2012 7:05 pm

    in defense of cyclists: most cyclists in jackson will blow a stop sign. but, they don’t do it when it is rude, ie – cutting off a vehicle’s turn in an intersection. the “rude” cyclists are typically here for 90 days in the summer, and ride 3 abreast not concerned about ongoing traffic. honk at them.

    sure, we may not believe in regulation, but we, especially the year round cyclists, are the ones testing the ability of our worn out studded tires on the crud alongside the roads so that cars can pass (at our risk).

    at first the elimination of the stop signs seemed like a good idea, but if you think about the scenario at snow king and millward, you can see where the progression will go. scenario: a vehicle is east bound approaching millward, now with 30-40 mph (as human nature will prove) and cannot see the intersection as the road has a bend that eliminates the line of site. some kid, dog, drunk skid walking home from the pub gets smoked. before you know it, there’s a lighted pedestrian crosswalk. flashing lights… great, if we wanted to live in the big city we would be there. the stop signs work fine.

    though it’s not likely possible, roundabouts at every intersection would be a great alternative. huge savings in energy to cars and cyclists alike, as you eliminate the need for a complete stop.

  21. js February 10, 2012 2:51 pm

    @MG: Where were these studies conducted? Atlanta, Chicago? Any of those roads used by deer, moose and foxes? Have the “professionals” ever set foot on Snow King Avenue?
    Neighborhood character is subjective, perhaps best defined by the people who live there and walk, bike and drive the streets. It’s disappointing that FoP would put more stock in generic statistics than the empirical knowledge offered by those who know the corridor best.
    How many close calls have readers had on Kelly and Millward Street? I cringed when the council decided a few years ago not to make the intersection a four-way stop. It’s only a matter of time before we have a bad accident and somebody gets hurt.
    As a resident of Kelly Avenue, I would sooner shine Dick Cheney’s shoes than let someone remove the stop signs at Willow Street. Traffic westbound from Redmond hauls ass, but at least drivers heading east have to stop at Willow and can’t, by necessity, be going that fast on our block. And Kelly isn’t nearly as busy as Snow King Ave.
    When I talk about keeping Snow King safe, I’m not writing from the perspective of a smug cyclist who feels entitled to more privileges than a driver. I’m talking about just crossing the freaking road. Walking around town in winter is difficult, with ice everywhere and lack of sidewalks, and pedestrians often are forced to walk in the road. And I’m talking about big kids, too. Tourists. If the Snow King base area is to see more development, we’re supposed to be providing a corridor inviting guests to walk down Snow King Avenue to Cache to reach the Town Square.
    Stand at the corner of Snow King and Willow and try to cross at 5:30 p.m., with motorists heading in and out of the ice rink, START bus at its stop, traffic coming to and from the resort, and tell me a stop sign would not improve the flow for pedestrians.
    If you really believe that motorists on Snow King Ave. speed up between Millward and Cache because the stop signs are “unnecessary,” there’s a lot more manure to be shoveled out behind the rodeo grounds.

  22. dave February 11, 2012 6:52 am

    good one jim,,,

    As a resident of Kelly Avenue, I would sooner shine Dick Cheney’s shoes than let someone remove the stop signs at Willow Street.

  23. Mike Geraci February 12, 2012 9:15 pm

    Jim- 70 technical studies from around the country conducted by professional traffic engineers. Some based on urban environments, some suburban. Hardly generic, most consider it comprehensive.

    While I can’t speak to what studies the Town has conducted on Snow King, I’m pointing out that many perceptions of safety, speed and impact of stop signs aren’t backed up by the data.

    Also, many of these studies point out elements that do work to achieve calmer, safer streets, including traffic chokers, speed bumps, roundabouts, pedestrian bulbs…all ideas worth considering.

    I’m not pro or con stop sign, just want to bring the research we’ve studied into the conversation and see where it applies. Maybe it could be a phased approach at one intersection to test before implementing it through the entire corridor.

  24. Mike Geraci February 12, 2012 9:44 pm

    What I’m saying is to stay open to the possibility that stop signs are not necessarily the best solution to make Snow King as safe and “calm” as it can be. That there are a lot of communities that have found the converse to be true. A Snow King that is safer for everyone is ultimately what all of us want in the end.

  25. Rob Weinstein February 13, 2012 7:37 am

    That’s a really solid point, Jim. How can the city encourage tourism around Snow King (which = foot traffic) while simultaneously increase car traffic in the same place?

  26. js February 13, 2012 10:04 pm

    Thank you to whaaa (above), whose comment unfortunately was sorted into spam folder and only now retrieved, for this link: http://www.miabirk.com/blog/?p=825

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