Friday, September 21, 2012
Transportation In Estes Park: Where We've Been & Where We're Going
By: Frank Lancaster, Estes Park Town Administrator Something as simple as the ability to vmove easily throughout a community can greatly affect one's quality of life. Last year's citizen survey results reinforce this and underscore what we at the Town of Estes Park already know -- that issues related to transportation and mobility are serious concerns among our residents. These issues also affect our guests' experiences and perceptions of Estes Park. It's paramount that we address this issue in a methodical way, drawing on the support and expertise of our partners and citizens. Where we've been Estes Park's downtown corridor is structured much like it was in the early 1900s. Yet today, millions of visitors travel through it on two major highways. The best traffic engineers and long-term residents agree, there are no simple solu- tions to this issue. But in recent years, we've started taking several steps to reduce congestion downtown, and throughout town. With our partners at the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), we restructured the intersection and a rightturn lane on Riverside Drive onto Elkhorn Avenue, increasing pedestrian safety and improving traffic flow from 400 to 1,200 cars per hour during peak season. CDOT has also invested in studies and equipment to improve pedestrian safety and traffic flow through better signalization. These changes aren't always popular, but the data speaks for itself and shows a 15 percent increase in traffic flow at the intersection of Elkhorn and Moraine. At the Town's request, CDOT also added a much-needed turn lane and acceleration lane at U.S. 34 and Mall Road this year. Another grant from CDOT will help us fund major improvements to pedestrian safety by rebuilding the sidewalks along the east side of Moraine Avenue. In 2011, we completed the Park-n-Ride at the Fairgrounds at Stanley Park. This facility is already serving to get visitors out of their cars and onto the shuttles provided by the Town and Rocky Mountain National Park. This project was made possible by more than $1 million in Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) and Funding Advancement for Surface Transportation and Economic Recovery (FASTER) grants through CDOT. We've continually improved our free shuttle system, to make it more appealing to residents and visitors. We've added a tracking system, more service days, hours and stops, and extra shuttles during special events. Ridership increased by 89 percent in 2011, and preliminary data from this year indicates another increase of 3.5 percent. This success can be attributed to the work of a committee of citizens and business representatives, volunteers, staff and trustees that studied and enhanced the system in 2012. A good trail system not only improves quality of life for our residents, it provides an alternative to get people out of their cars. In recent years, the Town extended the multi-use Fall River Trail by nearly a mile. CDOT contributed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to make this possible. Where we're going We will continue to consider every grant opportunity and partnership that helps us meet the goal of making it easier to get around town. To help us as we move forward, we draw on the expertise of transportation planners, but also that of our local residents. The Town's Transportation Visioning Committee was formed to draw on the perspectives of community members in planning for the future of transportation throughout the Estes Valley. Comprised of local citizens, the committee met for more than a year and produced extensive recommendations for improving and sustaining transportation that can be implemented by the Town in the future. We're also working with Rocky Mountain National Park, CDOT and the Federal Highway Administration to wrap up the Estes Valley Transit and Parking Enhancement Study. The study will list opportunities to reduce congestion in the Estes Valley by encouraging the use of alternative transportation systems. It will also help us acquire grant funding to pursue these opportunities. An early recommendation of this study was to consider a parking and transit facility at the Estes Park Visitor Center. We have since been awarded a $3 million Federal Transit Administration "Transit in the Parks" grant, and two additional grants from CDOT and the Upper Front Range Regional Planning Commission, totaling $328,000, to assist with construction of the facility. The project enhances the Town of Estes Park's efforts, in collaboration with Rocky Mountain National Park, to improve transit while reducing congestion and emissions in the Estes Valley and in Rocky Mountain National Park. I hope you've noticed the benefit of steps we've taken so far. It's going to take years, perhaps decades, of effort and continued reliance on our partners. But we are fortunate to be faced with such a challenge. The visitors drawn to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park sustain our economy, allow for a high level of municipal services, and maintain our low property taxes. And, they remind us of the reason we all continue to be blessed with the quality of life we enjoy here in Estes Park.