Our View: Safety a concern at US 40, Walton Creek
February 10, 2010
On Friday night, tragedy struck the Steamboat Springs community when a pedestrian was hit by a car and seriously injured.
Steamboat Springs police have identified the 51-year-old man as resident William R. "Rick" Hagberg.
He remained in critical condition Tuesday at Denver Health Medical Center after the incident at U.S. Highway 40 and Walton Creek Road.
The driver was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and vehicular assault. No matter how the case turns out, we think the way traffic flows into that confusing intersection is inherently dangerous and deserves scrutiny.
For drivers coming west into Steamboat Springs, the speed limit on U.S. 40 decreases from 55 mph to 45 mph not far before Walton Creek Road.
Before the stoplight, a right lane begins, but drivers who move into it quickly see that it is a right-turn-only lane onto Walton Creek. After the light, U.S. 40 becomes two-lanes in both directions.
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On the way east out of town, drivers have to keep an eye out for traffic merging onto U.S. 40 from Mount Werner Road. Immediately after they pass Walton Creek Road, the right lane becomes right-turn-only, and drivers going through must merge left.
Most confusing of all for eastbound motorists, particularly those from out of town, is the fact that typically on that stretch of the highway, the left lane is used by slower drivers and the right lane is used by faster drivers.
Drivers destined to make a left turn off the highway onto Walton Creek Road tend to occupy the left lane and begin slowing down long before the sign denoting a traffic light ahead comes into view. That causes motorists who are unfamiliar with local traffic patterns and are under the impression that they have left Steamboat behind to accelerate ahead in the right lane, often racing faster than the 45 mph speed limit as they approach the stoplight.
When the light turns green, they often race ahead once more when they realize the right lane has just turned into a right-turn-only lane.
Clearly, there's a lot happening at U.S. 40 and Walton Creek. And as our community grows, traffic coming into and going out of town will continue to increase. Added to our concerns is a proposed senior campus that is likely to be built along Walton Creek Road near the intersection. That could increase foot and vehicle traffic in the area, and it's crucial to make sure we do everything possible to make it safe.
The city doesn't track accidents at that intersection, Public Works Director Philo Shelton said, because it's Colorado Department of Transportation territory. A regional engineer for CDOT did not return a call seeking information about the intersection Tuesday afternoon. If that intersection hasn't been studied recently for safety purposes, perhaps it's time for the state agency to take a look at it.
A pedestrian underpass at the intersection does provide a safe way to cross U.S. 40. But as Friday's incident shows, people don't always use it. Human nature is to take the shortest and quickest route from point A to point B, and that's not always the safest route.
In May, we saw fit, unfortunately, to write an editorial similar to this one. It was a response to the death of Bob Bear, who was hit by a pickup at U.S. 40 and Pine Grove Road. We encouraged city officials to look at solutions at that dangerous intersection.
We also asked the community to take steps to enhance safety. Those are worth repeating here.
■ Obey the law: Motorists must yield to pedestrians in marked and unmarked crosswalks. That means that when a pedestrian steps off the curb at Sixth and Lincoln or 10th and Lincoln, for example, motorists are required by law to allow them to cross. Cars in adjacent lanes cannot pass and overtake a car that is stopped to allow pedestrians to cross the road.
The same goes for pedestrians. When crossing at a signal, obey the "walk" and "don't walk" commands. Pedestrians also can't jump off the curb and expect motorists to see them and stop for them.
■ Increased signage: Cities such as Boulder have made concerted efforts throughout the past decade to be more pedestrian-friendly by installing signs that flash when pedestrians are present and remind motorists of the state law. Such signs would be a welcome sight in our community.
■ Increased enforcement: The Steamboat Springs Police Department and Routt County Sheriff's Office should ramp up enforcement of the law as it pertains to motorist and pedestrian issues.
We as a community should strive to make the U.S. 40-Walton Creek crossroads safer. That starts with improving our driving habits, slowing down and remembering it's a risky spot that requires constant vigilance on everyone's part.