Our view: Up Fish Creek, no need to paddle | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: Up Fish Creek, no need to paddle

The news this week that the city of Steamboat Springs expects to begin construction in autumn 2017 on a new U.S. Highway 40 pedestrian underpass alongside Fish Creek is the most welcome development for cyclists and people on foot in our community since the city installed manually operated blinking pedestrian crossings at 10 locations around the community in 2014.

The new underpass would be built in one of several existing box culverts under U.S. 40 and funded primarily with a Federal Highway Administration Grant through the Colorado Department of Transportation. As such, it can be regarded as an example of federal tax dollars trickling down to a small city in which they will provide tangible benefits.

The new underpass will enhance safety while linking people in Fish Creek mobile home park on one side of the highway and the Ore House at the Pine Grove condominiums on the other, for example, to shopping and recreation (including the Yampa River Core Trail and fishing at Fetcher Park). Walgreens, Sundance at Fish Creek (with restaurants and childcare), Safeway, Walmart and Ski Haus, offering bike rentals, are all in the immediate vicinity.

It's a strategic coincidence that Fish Creek flows beneath the highway at a point that is close to equidistant from its busy and often dangerous intersections with Anglers Drive and Pine Grove Road. Like the longstanding U.S. 40 pedestrian underpass along Walton Creek just south of the stoplight at Walton Creek Road, the presence of the stream in the underpass has its pluses and minuses.

It will be flooded and closed for a few weeks each year during spring snowmelt. But the economic savings of being able to route pedestrians through an existing tunnel under the highway could easily reach six figures.

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And in the case of Walton Creek and Fish Creek, they are ideally located. Both Walton Creek and Pine Grove road intersections have seen pedestrian and bicycle fatalities. And Pine Grove has long been acknowledged as one of the most dangerous intersections in Steamboat, based on the number of accidents there.

This is not the first time the prospect of an underpass next to Fish Creek has been raised. In 2009, a team of developers hoping to build 120,000 square feet of commercial space in four buildings called City South, off Pine Grove Road on the west side of U.S. 40, proposed to build the underpass themselves.

With the revived plans for the underpass, we think it's critical the city also look at ways to improve pedestrian safety where some will need to make their way across the broad highway entrance to the Safeway parking lot on their way to and from the underpass.

Given human nature and peoples' reluctance to go very far out of their way, we also think the city should plan for a robust public education process to urge pedestrians and cyclists to abandon the dangerous surface intersections at Anglers and Pine Grove and use the new underpass. Neighboring businesses should be enlisted to bolster that effort through interaction with their customers.

If we do this right, Steamboat will become a safer place for human-powered transportation.

At issue

Enhancing pedestrian safety

Our view

Done right, the U.S. Highway 40 underpass has potential to save lives