Speed limit on Steamboat’s Yampa Street lowered to improve pedestrian safety | SteamboatToday.com

Speed limit on Steamboat’s Yampa Street lowered to improve pedestrian safety

Scott Franz

The city of Steamboat Springs placed a machine on Yampa Street on Thursday to let motorists know the speed limit has been changed to 15 mph. The reduced speed limit is part of an effort to make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists who use the route.

— Traffic on Yampa Street moved a little slower Thursday thanks to a reduced speed limit.

The change from 25 to 15 mph was made by the city to improve pedestrian safety, and the slower traffic was welcomed by cyclists and walkers, including Erin Vargas.

"I think it’s going to be a good thing," she said as she washed the dirt off her cruiser bike in front of the Wheels Bike Shop on Yampa. "It’s safer."

In addition to the new speed limit, fresh striping for bike lanes and pedestrian crossings also are in place on Yampa as Steamboat ushers in its busy summer tourism season and sees more traffic on the street.

On Sunday, the street also will celebrate its inaugural Yampa Live event from noon to 3 p.m., when residents and visitors can enjoy reggae music, refreshments, beach volleyball, kiddie pools and sandcastles, among other attractions.

"We thought this would be a good time to roll out the changes," Public Works Director Chuck Anderson said.

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Making Yampa more pedestrian friendly long has been a discussion at Steamboat Springs City Council meetings and among business owners on the street.

Anderson added that the city also is looking into making some changes to the parking areas on Yampa with the goal of better defining pedestrian walkways.

He said the goal is not to eliminate any parking but to rearrange it.

Also Thursday, employees with Colorado Department of Transportation’s Bicycle, Pedestrians and Byways Unit installed a new bike counter that will keep tally of every cyclist who rides over a section of the street.

Unit Manager Betsy Jacobsen said the data helps cities and the state agency figure out peak cycling times and whether the amount of bike traffic warrants changes to the roadway, such as sharrows or protected bike lanes.

Steamboat Springs was one of the first cities in the state to receive one of the counters in 2010, when one was installed on Routt County Road 129.

City officials said after the installation that the data could help it to secure grants and funding for road improvements.

Jacobsen said that even in its infancy, the new bike counting program has influenced policy.

For example, data from the C-470 bike path near Denver showed that contrary to CDOT and motorists’ previous perceptions, a significant number of cyclists were continuing to use the bike path throughout the winter, but the traffic stopped after snowstorms.

The cycling count led to CDOT starting to plow part of the bike path after snowstorms, Jacobsen said.

It’s early to tell what bike counting data could lead to for roadways like Yampa Street, but the data will help the city make future decisions.

"We’ve been counting motorized traffic for years and years, but we’ve never had data on cycling," Jacobsen said. "Should we be making any accommodations for them on certain roadways? Should we add shoulder width? This data helps with those decisions."

She said Steamboat quickly became an ideal place to measure the traffic in the northwest corner of the state.

The counter on Yampa uses an induction loop system and can differentiate between cars, people and bicycles.

The metal on a bike is detected by wires that are embedded across the street.

It was a coincidence the speed limit was lowered on the same day the bike counter was being installed, but the CDOT employee did offer some feedback on the change, saying traffic studies have shown drops from 25 to 15 mph drastically can reduce the potential of cyclists and pedestrians getting seriously injured or killed in a collision with a car.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com