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Seeking Higher Ground: Walk at your own peril

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Sound and fury at a Carbondale Bike, Pedestrian and Trails Commission meeting?

Who’da thunk it?

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The topic was 8th Street.

The fury came from John Hoffmann, former Carbondale trustee and current Senior Matters board member. “For heaven’s sake,” he fumed, “This town has been kicking the can down the road for the last 40 years about this! We talked about it for the eight years I was a trustee! Then for another eight when I served on this commission! And nothing—absolutely nothing—has been done about it.”

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Holly Buell, a mom who lives along 8th, came to the meeting to complain that she suffers “minor heart attacks” daily due to speeders. Holly’s two-year-old doesn’t understand traffic, and although 8th Street has a 20 mph speed limit posted – even monitored by a big, flashing digital speed sign – it’s not enforced.

It’s not that the police don’t pay attention to 8th. Holly herself came to police attention last week.

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Holly told me that as her neighbor was carpooling kids to school, she waved the neighbor, another mom, over. The neighbor stopped facing traffic and the two started to gab about the risk of their kids getting run over by speeders. A cop intervened, threatening to ticket the neighbor for “parking the wrong way.” He even ran her driver’s license.

Holly found that ironic. Not just because her neighbor’s car wasn’t “parked”; the driver was present and the motor was running. But also because that speed monitor was flashing big yellow numbers, in full view of the cop, as a motorist sped by at 8 mph over the limit.

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That was almost as ironic as Holly’s husband watching a police car speed down 8th at night—not just over the limit but also running a stop sign. Without bubblegum lights flashing or a siren sounding.

Hmm. What does say about priorities?

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Although I’ve been surveying the town’s “priority corridors” with the Carbondale Age-Friendly Community Initiative (CAFCI), I’m not familiar with 8th Street. So after the meeting, I drove it. Attentively, and verrry slowly.

It’s a mess.

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The skinny sidewalk on 8th’s east side is mostly continuous from Main down to the cemetery. But I dare you to walk on it in a full-frontal approach. It’s only about 2’ 6” wide in places and blocked by shrubs and parked cars. A concrete ditch enclosure cuts out about half its width. It’s broken and cracked. It has no curb cuts in some places; it’s all driveway in others.

On the Planning Commission’s section of the Town’s website, there’s a “Bicycle and Pedestrian Priority Corridors” link. It opens a map that highlights this section of 8th in green, showing it as a “nighttime priority route.” Really?! I couldn’t walk that path in daylight without turning sideways or detouring into the street. Otherwise, I’d crash into mailboxes, rocks, bushes and rearview mirrors.

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Judging from conversation at the Commission’s meeting, I don’t think our town has gotten a grip on what’s meant by “priority” corridors.

Priority for what?

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What am I to make of the “Truck Route” sign lying flat in the weeds on 8th Street’s west side, pointing to…what? Mt. Sopris? Are truck drivers supposed to SEE this recumbent message? Are they supposed to turn toward the Mother Ship portal on Colorado Avenue? Or is truck traffic prioritized to continue down 8th?

Due to physics, I think that multi-ton cars and trucks always have “priority” over toddlers, moms with strollers and folks walking four-pound designer dogs. Pedestrians and bicyclists always crack up when there’s a bone of contention that pits flimsy flesh against motorized metal. Unless we protect them.

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Ultimately, the fixes for 8th Street are, as fellow CAFCI walker Sue Zislis, put it, “expensive, complicated, political and contentious.” That’s surely why the can has been kicked down this particular road for 40 years.

Then again, CAFCI suggested some simple improvements in the report they handed to the Bike/Pedestrian Commission: reflective paint, speed bumps, shrubbery trimming. Fix the broken streetlights. Enforce existing parking and speed limit laws.

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That last one shouldn’t be hard.

Last summer, I got my first speeding ticket in 50 years for exceeding the 20 mph limit on Sopris Avenue. The cop noted that residents there had complained and Carbondale’s finest were responding.

As they should.

Frankly, I deserved that ticket. I often drive to the library, and several times, I have seen bunnies in the street. There’s a big hutch at a house on Sopris, and while the ducks don’t escape, it seems that rabbits are good at burrowing under fences. While I hated getting ticketed, I would have been heartsick if I had killed a bunny.

And frankly, I’d give the Sopris Avenue bunnies better odds than I’d give to kids or codgers along 8th Street about now.