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Safe routes consensus: Don’t focus on Rio Grande Trail

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By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

While no decisions were made, a community meeting on Monday about finding “safe routes” for pedestrians and cyclists traveling around Carbondale at night yielded one item of information that a town trustee said will help a lot as the Board of Trustees (BOT) tries to determine how to meet citizen demands for safe streets in the dark.

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And that bit of information, reflecting a consensus of the roughly 15 people who participated in the discussion on Monday night, is that the town should not be focused too much on the Rio Grande Trail as it cuts through the center of Carbondale.

“That’s a really important point for the trustees,” said Trustee Ben Bohmfalk, who was at the meeting as liaison between the BOT and the Bike, Pedestrian & Trails Commission (BP&T), which hosted the meeting and, with assistance from the Land+Shelter consulting firm, is leading the effort to help the BOT on the issue.

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Among the other main points summed up by the attendees — who split into three separate discussion groups for much of the 90-minute meeting — included:

• A feeling that increasing the lighting of dark portions of Carbondale’s streetscape, alone, will not solve the problem of helping residents to feel safe as they walk or ride around town at night;

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• There are certain parts of town — Village Lane near Gianinetti Park, sections of South 8th Street as it approaches Main Street, parts of Snowmass Drive and Weant Boulevard, and stretches of Highway 133 were specifically mentioned — where a lack of lights is the most critical part of the problem;

• Along some streets, the lack of sidewalks is just as important as a lack of light, because it forces pedestrians and cyclists either into the streets or into equally dark parts of the neighborhoods, where they feel unsafe.

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Taking steps

Participants on Monday noted that the town has been taking steps, some of them even prior to a pair of assaults on women that happened last summer and sparked demands for action by the government.

For instance, said BP&T member Niki Delson, for some time the Carbondale police department has offered free rides to people who feel anxious about walking home alone at night.

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But, Delson said, that service is not widely used, as not many people know about it.

Summarizing the feelings of people at one of the discussion tables, BP&T chairman Darryl Fuller noted that while the Rio Grande Trail through Carbondale is not viewed by some as a particularly safe route at night, “I use Rio Grande Trail all the time at night.”

But in light of perceptions that the trail is not a good, safe route, Fuller continued, “I think 8th Street becomes really important” as a north-south route through the western neighborhoods of old Carbondale.

He acknowledged that 8th Street between Village Road and Main Street is not seen as adequately serving any type of users right now — whether they are cars, bicycles or pedestrians — he said the street needs more sidewalks and should be upgraded to a more “multi-use pathway” for all modes of transportation.

Some suggested that the town should increase the number of police call-boxes, to offer pedestrians or cyclists a way of calling for assistance if they feel threatened, but Fuller wondered if that would be useful.

“I just think, in the age of cell phones, a call box in general … I’m questioning how effective they are” in offering a heightened sense of security to people on the streets at night.

In attempting to wrap up the meeting on Monday, Andi Korber  of Land+Shelter said that at one group discussion table, people told her that historically, “we tended to feel pretty safe in Carbondale.”

But in light of recent assaults and a general increase in personal anxiety, she said, people feel the town must make changes to help its residents feel safer.

That might include a map of safe routes for nighttime travel that could boost use of those routes and create a “safety in numbers” feeling; a special telephone app that displays those routes and other safety-related measures; and perhaps a more clearly identified north-south link between the northern and southern sections of town, she said.

“But just increasing lighting and sidewalks generally was something that could be agreed upon,” she concluded.

Bohmfalk in particular said the discussion group he was with felt that more lighting along Highway 133, Village Road and other streets clearly was viewed as a viable part of any ultimate solution.

The BP&T commission will be meeting in December to go over the complete set of findings from Monday’s meeting, as well as other kinds of input.

That meeting will be public, although it is not likely to be a formal public hearing, Fuller said, but rather a chance for the commission members to put together a set of recommendations for the trustees to consider.

Published in The Sopris Sun on November 10, 2016.

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