Residents oppose proposed changes at NES
June 16, 2017
The county’s preliminary plan for improving bike and pedestrian safety near Niwot Elementary School (NES) was met with opposition by area residents at a meeting held June 8 at the Left Hand Grange Hall. Two project phases were outlined by members of the transportation department staff, with Phase I slated for completion this summer.
The construction phases are part of the St. Vrain Valley School District’s (SVVSD) goals for reducing car traffic while maximizing safety, according to co-presenter Cammie Piller Edson, a coordinator for the county’s Trip Tracker program, which aims to encourage alternative transportation to and from area schools.
The project’s first phase involves the installation of a temporary 8-foot wide, two-way cycle-track, or a bike lane that’s separated from the sidewalk and road by flexible delineators. The lane will run from the existing sidewalk at Walker Avenue, to a raised pedestrian crossing in front of the school on Morton Road. The county’s bicycle planner, Alex Hyde-Wright, said work on phase I will begin in July.
The project’s phase II will include 2-foot wide gravel shoulders on either side of Morton Road, a permanent multi-use path either next to the road (for option I), or on the far side of a 9-foot wide drainage ditch, to serve as a buffer between the multi-use path and the road (for a more expensive option II). No budget was mentioned, as this meeting was called for the purpose of gathering community input. Work on phase II is slated to begin in 2018.
But the audience balked at the potential cost for either of the phase II options, with one member saying he considered them “a poor stewardship of our tax dollars.” Many agreed.
“The problem is that the bike traffic [to and from the school] is minimal,” said another audience member. She suggested that “three percent of families, at most,” commute to Niwot Elementary that way.
“The number is a little more than that,” said the meeting’s facilitator, Dave Webster, a water resources and project engineer with the county. But he implied the actual percentage wasn’t much higher.
According to Edson, many NES families responded to a recent survey, claiming they would change their habits and either walk or bike to school if conditions along the route were made safer. “It’s a ‘if you build it they will come’ kind of thing,” she said.
And while everyone agreed the neighborhood isn’t currently safe for pedestrians or bikers, the school has a number of open-enrollment families who, they argued, live too far away to make use of either of the phase II options anyway. In an SVVSD October 2016 report, 3,911 elementary students were open enrolled in the district.
Some in the audience complained that when school’s in session, many parent drivers far exceed the school zone speed limits, posing serious safety concerns for the neighborhood. Local resident Kathy Koehler said her legally blind neighbor, who uses a cane when he’s out for a walk, was nearly hit by a parent driver. She said this and similar incidents are what drove the county and SVVSD to put up “no parking” signs along Morton Road during school hours.
Another resident said she’d been hit when standing in the school’s crosswalk. The same woman said two of her family’s cars had been totaled at the intersection of Walker Avenue and Niwot Road. Someone else said her car was hit from behind while driving on Niwot Road in front of the high school.
When Webster suggested the county put in speed mitigation along Morton Road and Walker Avenue, a resident shouted, “Speed bump the whole neighborhood—Morton, Walker, Marathon, Audubon and Paiute!”
Someone else added, “What we need is a left turn signal at [the corner of] Walker Avenue and Niwot Road—[the cars] are stacked up in the mornings and afternoons and you can’t move.”
A meeting between the school district and NES parents and residents was held in 2016, for the purpose of gathering input on how best to spend the $260 million earned through the bond issue. But a promised follow-up never occurred.
“Where is St. Vrain?” someone in the audience asked, wondering why a district representative hadn’t attended the meeting. According to Webster, the district was asked, but neglected to respond to his invitation.
So while phases I and II of the transportation department’s preliminary plan might meet SVVSD objectives for better bike and pedestrian safety near NES, the overall sentiment was that the plan didn’t honor the goals of the neighborhood. And the problem may be that “the county and St. Vrain weren’t synched up from the beginning,” Webster admitted. He promised to meet with residents again before any steps are taken on the project’s phase II.
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