By Jim Stanford on February 7, 2012
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.
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 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.”
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.
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.