Surviving Steamboat’s summer traffic: A look at the city’s busiest intersections
June, July and August see the most cars on the road
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Every Steamboater has been there. You’re headed through downtown on a sunny summer day, frustrated as you advance only a few car lengths as the light hurriedly turns from red to green to yellow and red again.
June, July and August see the most cars on the road in Steamboat Springs.
A number of factors play into this, explained Laura Soard, marketing director at the Steamboat Springs Chamber.
“It’s a couple of things, one of those being that more tourists drive here in the summer,” she said. “We have a lot of people driving through town and people driving to town to stay here. We have fewer flights coming into Hayden in the summer, so that means more people are flying to Denver and driving up or just driving from their home.”
She added that in the winter, more people take shuttles and Steamboat Springs Transit buses to avoid driving in winter weather.
Steamboat’s biggest weekends for summer visitors — July Fourth and the Mountain Soccer Tournament — are past, Soard said. Tourism in August typically winds down until Labor Day weekend, she added.
But while the overall volume of traffic is greatest in the summer, seasonal shifts affect different areas in different ways.
“It varies from place to place in town,” said Steamboat Springs City Engineer Ben Beall. “It’s not entirely that simple to say that ‘Oh, during July, it’s the busiest traffic month,’ although overall, July has the most traffic.”
At the base area around Steamboat Resort, the biggest influx of traffic is around Christmas, New Year’s and weekends in March, he said. Downtown Steamboat sees a wider swing in traffic volume during the mud season months to the summer months. There’s a smaller peak in downtown traffic in the winter months of January and March, but then a larger influx in the summer months, he said.
“June, July, August, and even into September now, probably has the most traffic when you’re thinking about the overall system,” he said.
Pine Grove at Lincoln Avenue (U.S. Highway 40) — 36,453 vehicles traveled through this intersection on July 25, 2018, according to data from the Colorado Department of Transportation
Seventh Street at Lincoln Avenue (U.S. Highway 40) — 31,651 vehicles traveled through this intersection on July 25, 2018, according to data from the Colorado Department of Transportation
13th Street at Lincoln Avenue (U.S. Highway 40) — 31,327 vehicles traveled through this intersection on July 25, 2018, according to data from the Colorado Department of TransportationClick here to see the intersections on a map
Steamboat is not immune to the commuter rush. Beall said the peak hours of traffic during the week are generally around lunchtime and when people are headed to or departing from work, around 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
School can also create an afternoon peak in Old Town, he said, and commuter traffic might see longer backups west of 13th Street on Lincoln Avenue. On the weekend, there is no clear peak in traffic during the week.
As for dodging the most stressful parts of vehicular life in Steamboat, Soard suggests trading four wheels for two or six. After all, Steamboat’s in-town bus system is free to the rider.
“We can all minimize the amount of time that we spend on the road,” she said. “When we can use our bicycles or alternative transportation, that not only helps traffic, but it also helps our environment and health as well.”
Residents can also adjust their schedules to try to avoid peak traffic, she said, which helps with your own frustration and overall traffic levels.
And remember, it’s not just out-of-towners on the road.
“A lot of the people that we see in traffic are our neighbors and co-workers,” Soard said. “I know I look around me when I’m sitting at a stoplight, and I recognize the people next to me. It’s not just tourists; it’s locals as well. Have patience with each other and be welcoming to people who are visiting our town in the summer.”
Beall pointed to the list of street-related capital improvement projects on the city’s to-do list, which address areas with the greatest congestion. U.S. Highway 40’s intersections with Downhill Drive, Indian Trail, Elk River Road and the southern exit from U.S. 40 onto Mount Werner Road have all seen work or are slated for some work by 2020, using city and Steamboat Springs Redevelopment Authority funding.
“There are other places that have pretty high congestion, but there’s not too much that can be done because those intersections are kind of maxed out,” Beall said.
This is the case at Lincoln Avenue’s intersections with Third Street and Pine Grove Road.
“What you’re trying to do with those intersections is look at how you can — through traffic demand management or making improvements around them — hopefully, pull traffic from those intersections and send them elsewhere where there may be capacity,” Beall said.
For example, instead of turning left on eastbound Lincoln Avenue onto Pine Grove Road, drivers can take Mount Werner Road. Plans call for the stop sign at the southern side of Mount Werner Road to be replaced by a roundabout, which is expected to move traffic through more quickly.
For now, no matter where you’re going and how fast you’re getting there, Beall suggests patience and a willingness to drive carefully, so everyone can get where they’re going safely.
“That’s the responsibility we all have when we’re behind the wheel,” he said.
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