Woodland Park officials are still aggressively lobbying to lower the speed limit on Highway 24 through town, despite opposition from state transportation authorities.
The city of Woodland Park commissioned AECOM Technology Corporation to conduct a study to improve traffic issues in Woodland Park at a cost of $80,000. The overview of the proposals is a planning level analysis to examine traffic issues, focus on near term solutions, generate ideas, improve general circulation, gather community input, provide general recommendations and develop a plan for the future
The plans presented are meant to address key concerns the public identified last March at a meeting on the issue. Those concerns include; high traffic volumes during tourist season, excessive speed, traffic signal timing/spacing, difficulty turning left off Highway 24/ medians interfering with turning, truck and traffic noise, pedestrian safety, general traffic congestion, and congestion at pick up/drop off points at schools.
During the hearings on the Alternative Traffic Study last September,city officials announced they would make the simplest least expensive solutions a top priority. Lobbying the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) to lower posted speed limits on Highway 24 from Walmart to Bluebird Hill is one of those priorities.
City Manager David Buttery has been actively pursuing the speed limit issue but has been stymied by CDOT procedures. CDOT recently performed a traffic study on average speed through town. They conducted their study in an area on Highway 24 where the current speed limit is 35 mph.
The criterion used by CDOT to determine whether or not a speed limit should be raised is based on an 85 percentile formula. This formula takes the speeds of 85% of the traffic and uses that number as the speed that most accurately represents the general flow of traffic.
The study concluded that in the 35 mph section, the 85 percentile was a speed of 33 mph. Rounding the 33 mph up to 35 mph, which is the current speed limit, CDOT decided the speed limit should remain the same.
Buttery feels the formula used by CDOT does not take into account actual conditions on the ground. His main objection to the CDOT formula is that it fails to consider what he calls “the safety and comfort” of pedestrians and drivers.
To make his point Buttery took a CDOT official to the intersection of Highway 24 and N. Pine St. He showed the official how that intersection has a serious visibility problem for drivers trying to turn both left and right onto Highway 24. The close proximity of buildings to the highway and the covered sidewalk at the intersection make it difficult to see traffic coming west on Highway 24. Drivers have to practically inch out onto the highway to see westbound traffic, which can be a dangerous proposition.
The issue of excessive speed through town is not only a hazard for drivers. Pedestrians walking on the north side of the highway from N. Pine St to N. Park St. can find themselves dangerously close to heavy traffic, particularly large semi vehicles..
Keeping traffic flowing efficiently through town is another reason CDOT may be reluctant to lower the limits. Commercial traffic and drivers heading to the mountains feel Woodland Park is a speed bump in the way of their primary destination.
While the battle over what method should be used to determine raising the speed limit continues, there are other measures the city has pursued to slow down drivers.
The city has narrowed the lanes on Highway 24 in both directions from Fairview to Highway 67. This maneuver is aimed at giving drivers a sense of being confined, thus making them be more apt to slow down for safety reasons.
Buttery has also instructed Woodland Park Police Chief Miles De Young to step up enforcement of speed limits. He said there will be fewer warnings given to speeders and fewer warnings for violating the speed limits.
When asked what he considered the threshold for issuing a citation as opposed to a warning, Buttery said, “It would not be prudent for me to comment on that.” Asked if there are indeed still some warnings issued instead of tickets,, Buttery said, “I haven’t looked at the statistics lately, but I suppose some warnings are still given.”
Buttery was quick to preemptively dispel any notion that the city is using its ticketing power to raise money. (aka “speed trap”) He said, “Speeding tickets don’t make us money. It is a very small percent of revenue.”
The city has also reached an agreement with the state to construct an overhead flashing light over Highway 24 for pedestrian crossing safety at Center St. This project will begin in the not too distant future and will be paid for by CDOT.
If the city has its way, here are the areas that will be affected by the lowering of speed limits in Woodland Park in both directions on Highway 24: From Walmart to Safeway the limit will be lowered from 55 mph to 45 mph and from there, where the speed limit is now 45 mph it will be lowered to 35 mph. From Fairview to Highway 67 the limit will be lowered to 25 mph.