By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
An advisory commission that deals with bicycle and pedestrian trails in Carbondale is inviting concerned citizens to show up at a meeting on Sept. 12 and let their feelings be known regarding the safety of the town’s streets, sidewalks and trails, and whether lights should be added to dark parts of town.
But at least one member of the Board of Trustees stressed to The Sopris Sun this week that if additional lights are supported by the citizenry, people must understand that the town is not interested in detracting from Carbondale’s highly prized night sky, nor in putting up lights that will negatively affect the town’s energy efficiency goals.
“We’re very aware of the community’s values,” said Trustee Ben Bohmfalk, referring to the potentially conflicting desires of not blotting out the stars with too much light, while making the streets safer by adding lights.
What town officials hope to do, he said, is to match the need for lights with ample consideration of Carbondale’s determination to not expand its carbon footprint by installing lights that waste energy, and to not shine too much light into the night sky.
The Bike, Pedestrian & Trails (BP&T) Commission has been directed, by the town’s trustees, to look into concerns expressed by some in town that the streets are not safe for women to walk alone at night.
In particular, according to testimony from several women at the Aug. 23 trustees meeting, there are many segments of local streets and trails that are too poorly lit for safe use by women walking alone, as shown by recent attacks on two women in town.
One of the assaults, according to police, was an attempted sexual assault against a 30-year-old woman, who was walking along Highway 133 near the intersection with Cowen Drive when a man came up from behind her and grabbed her.
That attack occurred late on the night of July 22, the woman told The Sopris Sun in a recent interview.
She said the attack came at close to midnight, with the result that by the time police got involved the incident was reported as having happened on July 23.
The assault on the woman caused injuries that sent her to Valley View Hospital where, she received treatment that resulted in charges of more than $7,000.
The July 22 assault happened a little more than three weeks after another assault on much younger girl on June 28 near Gianinetti Park, also in the northern section of Carbondale. The victim in the July 22 attack said she heard the girl was 13 years old.
Police Chief Gene Schilling has firmly denied that the June 28 attack was sexual in nature, and told The Sopris Sun that police do not believe the two assaults were by the same man.
Still, the women at the Aug. 23 trustees meeting indicated that the feeling among women in town is that the streets are the haunt of certain men seeking to harm women, and that the dark sections of streets and trails appear to be the favored spots for such attacks to occur.
So it was that, on Aug. 23, the trustees charged the BP&T Commission with taking an initial look at the matter and, subsequently, making recommendations to the trustees about what can be done to make the streets safer.
Much of the debate so far has revolved around suggestions that the town needs to better illuminate the streets and trails, although no clear-cut way of doing so has emerged.
The BP&T Commission, made up of seven appointed volunteer members, has as its mission “to create a more bicycle and pedestrian friendly community.”
To do so, according to its page on the town’s website (www.carbondalegov.org), the commission “makes recommendations to the Town Board of Trustees (BOT) that educate, promote and develop safe and effective programs and infrastructure to encourage bicycle and pedestrian use.”
The issue of safety is mentioned in a narrative about the commission’s role on the town’s website, though only in a passing reference (see above).
Trustee Bohmfalk, who is the liaison between the BP&T Commission and the town board of trustees (BOT), told The Sopris Sun on Tuesday that the commission plans “to gain public input, and for the members of the commission to make a recommendation” to the BOT about whether more street and trail lighting is being demanded by the citizenry.
That recommendation, Bohmfalk said, might come on the night of the commission meeting, or it might be delayed to allow for more information to be gathered.
He said there will be only two items on that night’s commission agenda, the other being a discussion of crosswalk etiquette for bicyclists crossing Highway 133.
But the street and trails safety question, he said, will be the main focus of the night, as the commission members try to gauge which has greater support — more lights on the streets and trails, or adherence to what is loosely called the “dark sky initiative,” which calls for protection of the night sky from intrusive urban lighting.
It is not the aim of the commission, Bohmfalk said, to get into the specific and technical details of the lighting itself, but to preside over discussion of “the larger issues,” such as whether added lighting should illuminate not just the trail or the street, but also the surrounding terrain to prevent stalkers from hiding near the corridor.
“We’re not saying we’re going to light up the whole town,” Bohmfalk stressed, predicting that town officials will concentrate on certain corridors that presently lack lighting.
He said the commission is prepared to accommodate however many people show up to give input, explaining, “We’d rather have people engage at this point” rather than at some later time in the discussion, to give the town a better idea of public sentiment right now.
“This is in direct response to concerns that have been raised,” he said, noting that Trustee Katrina Byars first broached the subject at a BOT meeting in early August, followed up by a discussion among concerned women and the BOT on Aug. 23.
He also said that the trustees have scheduled a work session on Sept. 20 to tackle the subject, whether or not the BPT Commission has made a recommendation by that date.
“You want to move fast,” he said of such matters, “but you also want to go at a pace where you can solicit the input from the people.”
Published in The Sopris Sun on September 8, 2016.