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Ten pounds of development in a five-pound bag

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Guest Opinion by Patrick Hunter

I was thinking about Carbondale’s growing traffic problems. Seems like the situation is getting exponentially worse. I’m reminded of the phrase of putting 10 pounds of something in a five-pound bag. Now, a lot of towns are surrounded by empty space, like on the Front Range. They just keep expanding with more streets as they need them. Not gonna happen here. 

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Carbondale has a river to the north and the west. Part of the east side is a drop off, while the other part is a steep hill. There is some open space to the south that is sworn to stay as it is. So, the streets we have in the town are pretty much all we will ever have. 

The only street that goes all the way east to west is Main Street. Sopris Avenue goes to Snowmass Drive. The fully north-south streets are Highway 133 and Eighth Street. There is a plan to connect Merrill Avenue to 133. There is also a plan to connect 133 over around Third Street. That’s about it. 

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I got to thinking why a few Carbondale streets were concrete. I did some research. It was kind of an accident. Back in 1981, the low bidder on the streets had just got a concrete plant and offered to do the job in concrete rather than asphalt. The Board of Town Trustees agreed, mainly because the concrete would last a long time. Right about that. This was for Main Street, Weant Blvd, north Eighth Street and part of Sopris Avenue. 

Another significant factor is that these concrete streets would be getting a lot of traffic. They are “collector” streets that are designed to take all the “local” neighborhood traffic to the “arterials.” Highway 133 is most likely an “arterial,” as it allows the town population access to other places including to four-lane Highway 82. Main Street is a “street” in the sense that it is also a public space. 

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I found that our concrete streets were all designed with just one concrete sidewalk, four feet wide. Eighth Street was made wider for parking on two sides because it is in a residential neighborhood. 

As overall traffic on our streets increases, these collector streets will need to step up and take more vehicles in and out of town. So I have to scratch my head when I see the town making north Eighth Street narrower. Apparently, some folks thought the traffic there was moving too fast. The town is also adding “curb extensions” as “pinch points” to cause traffic to travel slower. The street is posted for 20mph. 

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The reconstruction job is being done in two stages. Last summer, a new six-foot-wide sidewalk along with “pinch points” and dry wells for drainage were installed. This summer, they plan to rip out the original existing four-foot sidewalk and add the other features. I just walked the length of the original sidewalk, and it is just fine. Two ladies were taking an afternoon stroll and I stepped aside for them to come by. A couple was out with a stroller on the new sidewalk across the street. A bicyclist rode up the street. 

I heard that a bicycle lane was originally proposed but the residents held out to keep all the parking. They will still lose a few spaces for the pinch points. Right now, there are few cars in the parking lanes and a bicyclist can easily ride in the parking lane to avoid cars. I worry that the pinch points will force the bicycles closer to the cars at these narrower places. 

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Looking a little into the future, the town wants to develop the lots that used to be the Bonanza Trailer Park, and the owners of the light-industrial property north of downtown are making noises to develop. That is going to add greatly to the downtown traffic with more going to Eighth Street. Adding to this is the town’s desire to encourage people to add accessory dwelling units to their homes, while putting more families on existing lots wherever possible. 

Taking this all together, I just wonder if tearing out a pretty good sidewalk and making the driving lanes narrower fits with the additional traffic we can expect on Eighth Street. With our now regular backups on Highway 133 going north, won’t people be using Eighth Street to get to Highway 82 from Main Street?

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And all this begs a larger question, that is: how many more people do we really want in this town? And all the cars that come with them?

Tags: #Carbondale #development #Highway 133 #Patrick Hunter #Traffic
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