Chapter 1 - The Planning Process
Chapter 2 - Our Changing Society
Chapter 3 - Economic Overview
Chapter 4 - Land Use
Chapter 5 - Mobility and Circulation
Chapter 6 - Purpose and Use of the Plan
Area 1 - The North End
Chapter 7 - Action Plan
Appendix I - Summary of Interviews
Chapter 5 - Mobility and Circulation
A. Mobility And CirculationINTRODUCTION
The Town of Estes Park is the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). Both the Town and the Park are major tourist attractions in Colorado. As a result, the conditions of traffic and parking in the town vary from extremely congested streets, with little or no available parking in the summer, to no congestion and ample parking in the winter.
The summer congestion problem is exacerbated because all major highways within the study area intersect within the downtown. Convergence of these routes within the pedestrian-oriented downtown shopping area is frustrating to shop owners, pedestrians, visitors trying to enter or leave RMNP, and residents trying to access local shops and services such as the downtown Post Office.
Improvements within the Town of Estes Park are constrained by topography. The Big Thompson and Fall Rivers run through the Town, and the mountainous terrain limits the opportunity for identifying alternate routes to the congested corridors. Furthermore, existing development precludes street widenings. Historic traffic counts document the growth of traffic in the town as being significant. This traffic growth will continue with the increase in town residents and visitation to RMNP.
Compounding the congestion in the downtown area is heavy pedestrian traffic and peak parking demand. Major pedestrian movements crossing Elkhorn Avenue and other downtown streets reduce the signal time available for automobile traffic. Pedestrians crossing at unsignalized intersections cause safety concerns and further interfere with local and through traffic. Several parcels have been purchased and developed to serve parking demand downtown; however, at times the peak summer demand exceeds the available supply. Residents and tourists who circulate throughout the downtown area seeking a place to park further contribute to the congestion problem. Remote parking and transit shuttle service to the downtown has been tried in the past, with limited success, possibly due to the shuttle scheduling and marketing.
As growth occurs within the town and as the demand for visiting RMNP increases, it is clear that the town will need to develop new strategies and solutions that address the transportation and parking issues to create a better community. These solutions should be healthy and convenient for citizens, and interesting and attractive to visitors.
Transportation and parking solutions for the Town of Estes Park will require both a short-term program and a long-range plan. The short-term program will include both funded improvements and other recommended improvements to address existing and short-term deficiencies. The long-range improvement plan defines a transportation management strategy with a greater dependency on multi-modal transportation solutions.
This section provides background information regarding the extent of the existing mobility and circulation problem, and what may occur. A short-term transportation program and a long-range transportation plan are also presented to address the Town of Estes Park's circulation and parking needs.
B. Facts and ProblemsGENERAL
The Town of Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park have experienced significant growth in both full time residents and visitors. Currently, there are an estimated 9,861 full time and seasonal residents who live in the Estes Valley. In 1996, visitors to RMNP exceeded three million. This attendance is not only increasing within the peak summer months, but the peak season is extending as well.
The National Park Service has been exploring opportunities to serve the growth in number of visitors through private-public partnership funding of a new visitor center at the Fall River Rocky Mountain National Park Entrance. This investment at the Fall River Entrance may be of benefit to the Town of Estes Park. A northern bypass circles around the downtown area. The bypass has not been used to its full extent, as the primary entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park has been through the Beaver Meadows Entrance which requires travel through downtown. With increased emphasis to the Fall River Entrance, a greater portion of the future growth in Estes Park traffic will occur along the bypass.
The Town of Estes Park's circulation network is presented in Map 0.0 The majority of the circulation routes converge in the downtown area. These highways include US 36, which connects Lyons and the Boulder-Denver areas with Estes Park; US 34, which connects Loveland with Estes Park; Highway 66, which accesses Rocky Mountain National Park to the south and west; and Highway 7, which links Estes Park to Allenspark and the Peak-to-Peak Scenic Byway. Except for some three and four lane roadway sections within the downtown area, the primary as well as secondary roadways are all two lanes. The majority of these roads do not have access control to private developments nor sidewalk and bike trails.
Because downtown has developed into an extensive retail and service shopping area, the emphasis has been to provide parking close to the stores and offices. The Town of Estes Park has provided transit shuttle service from outlying parking areas near the US 34 and Highway 7 intersection to the downtown shopping area. Drivers unfamiliar with the area entering the town can be confused by the numerous directional and informational signs and not be aware of the shuttle service.
Traffic is one of the major concerns to the town. Existing summer average
weekday daily traffic volumes within the Town are presented graphically
in Map 5.1 (Average Daily Traffic Volumes). The roadways with the greatest
volumes include Big Thompson Avenue, Elkhorn Avenue, Moraine Avenue, and
Saint Vrain. These facilities provide the primary means of access to the
downtown area and Rocky Mountain National Park. In contrast to the very
high volume through routes to the park, the outlying roadways have lower
traffic volumes that could accommodate future growth.
Four observations are as follows:
Although it is important to identify current traffic volumes and understand
variations between weekday/weekend and seasons, it is also important to
understand the rate of traffic growth within the Town of Estes Park. Presented
in Figure 5.6 (1979-1994 Daily Traffic Volumes) are the off-season (represented
by the month of March) and the peak summer season (represented by the month
of July), weekday and weekend average traffic volumes entering the town
from 1979 to 1994 on US 34. As can be seen, volumes are growing during
both the peak and off-peak seasons and during the weekdays and weekends.
The annual percent increase in traffic over the past fifteen years, as
presented in Figure 5.1 is presented numerically as follows:
Based on historical growth rates, traffic will increase over the next 10 years by approximately 25 percent during the peak season and 80 percent during the off-season. The lower growth rate during the summer peak season is due in part to the fact that the town and Park accommodations have reached their current physical capacities, particularly on many of the key weekend summer days.
Future growth will depend on expanding these accommodations.
One measure for evaluating the operation of a circulation system is referred to as a level of service. Level of service is a grading system from "A" to "F," where "A" is excellent and "F" is over capacity and failing. This rating system is based on the Transportation Research Board Highway Capacity Manual. Ideally, arterials should operate at a level of service of "D" or better. The existing summer weekday level of service conditions are presented in Map 5.4 (Existing Levels of Service).
Unacceptable levels of service exist along US 34, through the downtown, and south on Moraine Avenue to the junction with US 36 to the Rocky Mountain National Park Beaver Meadows Entrance. Unacceptable levels of service were also identified on US 36 and Highway 7 as they approach the downtown area. The local service roads within the study area, such as Moccasin Circle Drive, have excellent levels of service. US 34 was widened in 1996. US 7 is scheduled to be widened in 1997. Although these improvements will significantly help in serving and accommodating traffic entering and exiting Estes Park, delays will result, particularly for inbound movements entering the downtown area.
There are two main, yet interrelated, transportation problems within Town: congestion of the roadway system and parking availability. The more traffic, the more demand for parking. The restricted supply of parking adds congestion to the roadways since drivers circle in their attempt to find parking spaces or stop in the travel lane waiting for a parking space to become available.
A map inventory of existing parking lots within the downtown area is presented in Map 5.5 (Parking Locations). There are 948 off-street and 259 on-street parking spaces, for a total of 1,207 parking spaces in the downtown area. An additional 386 off-street parking spaces outside the downtown area could be used as interceptor lots in combination with a shuttle service.
Additional observations regarding the current parking conditions within town:
There are two competing mobility issues facing the Town of Estes Park:
CREATE BYPASS ROUTES
There is a northern US 34 bypass route for people traveling east and west to the north entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park. There is no bypass for people traveling from the east to the southwest and the southern entrance to RMNP, or from the northern part of town to the southern part of town, west of downtown without traveling through downtown. A US 36 to US 34 bypass connection, west of downtown in the vicinity of the former landfill, has been proposed in the past to allow local traffic, as well as traffic entering and exiting RMNP, to bypass the downtown area. Also, a bypass along East and West Riverside to Highway 66 has been discussed.
CREATE PARKING MANAGEMENT PLAN
The limited number of parking spaces within downtown, coupled with the lack of any parking restrictions, contributes to downtown congestion. Many of the currently unrestricted, premium parking spaces within the immediate downtown area are occupied early in the day by local employees.
In the past, requests by the Estes Park Urban Renewal Authority to have downtown business employees park in outlying, under-utilized parking facilities have been ineffective. More restrictive parking controls such as pay parking lots and time limits have similarly been objected to by local merchants.
There are, however, positive programs that would assist the visitor by reducing unnecessary travel, without affecting the business owner or employee. A set of removable signs could be prepared and placed at the entrances of existing parking lots which describe where additional parking may be available. The key is to provide a positive direction to the visitor.
A parking restriction within the premium town center lots during early morning hours may also be considered. This would require the long-term employee to park in the outlying lots and preserve the higher demand lots for the visitor. Those premium spaces would then become unrestricted from mid-morning on.
If these two parking management plans do not successfully reach the Town's parking objectives, pay parking or time restriction signs may be the only alternative.
PROVIDE ALTERNATIVE MODES OF TRANSPORTATION
Transit systems to solve the circulation problems have been proposed for years, yet the most recent interceptor parking lot/trolley program has been discontinued. Practically, a successful transit system will help reduce the number of vehicles on the roadways. A successful program would need to have a central outlying interceptor parking area and transit stops to collect people. There would be several collection points centered around visitor activities such as: hotels/motels and tourist attractions. Frequent service -- approximately 16 hours per day -- would be required to make it attractive. Stops would need to be frequent. Visitor information about the system would also be critical to its success.
In addition, there is a growing need for an integrated hike/bike trail program. This program should be integrated in the development of roadway standards and be part of the long-term capital improvement program.
PROVIDE FUTURE PARKING OUTSIDE OF DOWNTOWN
The idea here is to "catch" the visitors before they get to the downtonw, therefore, the number f vehicles downtown will be reduced. The outlying lot should be near the US 34 and US 36 intersection, south of the Visitors Center. This lot could also serve as a future transit center, parking structure location, and park information center. These routes are used by the majority of visitors. Visitors using this lot would use the frequently scheduled downtown shuttle to circulate through Estes Park. An additional incentive for use of the outlying lot and shuttle system would be to impose parking charges for the central parking lots. The transit system could be also use by patrons of several nearby large motels. This would be a solution to the seasonal variation's constraint. The key to this alternative would be to notify the incoming visitor of parking and shuttle opportunties, give explicit directions on how to use the rovided service, and ensure that the vehicles were clean, safe, attractive, and convenient.
C. Short-Term Transportation ProgramSHORT-TERM TRANSPORTATION PROBLEM AREAS AND FUNDED IMPROVEMENTS
Based on the growing demand for access to and through Estes Park, a number of funded and non-funded short-term improvements are recommended. These improvements are presented graphically in Map 5.4 (Short Term Transportation Program).
FUNDED SHORT-TERM IMPROVEMENTS
1. During 1996, there were improvements to US 34 and the US 34/36 intersection
to Grand Estates Drive. Improvements included two lanes westbound, one
lane eastbound, 8-foot bicycle path on the south side, and acceleration
and deceleration lanes at Steamer Drive. Colorado Department of Transportation
(CDOT) Project, 1996
2. Colorado 7 Improvements: Intersection 36/7 to Carriage Drive. Improvements will include development of an access control plan and two-way left turn lane from US 36/7 to Carriage Drive, construction of curb and gutter from US 36/7 to Graves Avenue, and a signal at Manford Avenue. CDOT Project, 1997.
3. US 34/36 Intersection Improvements: Improvements will include
widening of the Big Thompson River Bridge and intersection modifications
and improvements to increase the capacity of the intersection. Upper Front
Range Project, 1999.
OTHER SHORT-TERM TRANSPORTATION PROBLEM AREAS AND IMPROVEMENTS
Other short-term improvements have been identified as important to address the existing and anticipated short-term transportation problems.
4. West Elkhorn/West Wonderview Avenue (US 34) intersection improvements: Ideally intersections should intersect at 90 degrees. The current intersection of West Elkhorn and West Wonderview is less than 45 degrees. To improve this intersection, West Elkhorn should be reconstructed to the south to provide sufficient distance to permit construction of a more conventional right angle intersection. See Map 5.6 (West Elkhorn/Highway 34 Intersection).
5. Fish Creek Road and Fish Creek/US 36 Intersection Improvements: A Larimer County study is currently examining this roadway and possibly the intersection and connection with Mall Road. Widening and geometric improvements along Fish Creek Road and intersection improvements at North St. Vrain and Fish Creek Road are necessary to improve safety at this intersection. See Map 5.7 (Fish Creek Road/Highway 36 Intersection).
6. North Saint Vrain Bikeway: Bicycle access via the US 36 causeway adjacent to Lake Estes is a safety concern and separate bikeways should be constructed.
7. Access Control Plan for US 36/Moraine Avenue from Mary's Lake Road to Crags Drive: This is a primary route from the Beaver Meadows Entrance to RMNP through downtown. There is a significant amount of uncontrolled access along US 36 that, if controlled, would improve circulation and increase safety.
8. Completion of Moccasin Drive Connection from Stanley/Prospect Intersection to Highway 7: With the recently completed Moccasin Circle Drive improvement, a connection to Highway 7 would provide a continuous east/west community bypass. This connection may possibly be at Manford Avenue.
9. Moraine Avenue, Crags Drive, and West Riverside Drive Intersection Improvements: These two intersections have historically been a major traffic congestion and safety problem. At the intersection of West Riverside Drive and Crags Drive, there is no delineation between the roadway and the shopping center at the southeast corner of the intersection. It is therefore recommended that a curb and landscape parkway be constructed to separate the roadway and parking lot. It is further recommended that a single driveway access from West Riverside and a single access from Crags Drive be constructed sufficiently distant from the intersection to avoid conflict with the intersection operation.
The traffic circulation and safety problems at the intersection of Moraine Avenue and Crags Drive are very complex. Traffic during peak conditions currently exceeds the capacity of a two-lane facility. Right-of-way to accommodate a four-lane roadway is not possible. This roadway also experiences a 90 degree turn for through movement. At the southwest quadrant of this roadway, there is a doughnut shop where vehicles must exit by backing into Moraine Avenue through traffic. Added to this is a non-conventional intersection design between Moraine and Crags Drive with a significant grade differential. There are two alternative intersection improvements that should be explored; both require acquisition of the doughnut shop. See Map 5.8 (Moraine Avenue, Crags Drive and West Riverside Drive Improvements).
10. Downtown Circulation and Parking Plan: Demand for services in Estes Park and visitation to RMNP will continue to grow and there is significant physical and financial limitation to improvements that could mitigate existing and future impacts. Therefore, the requirement to better manage the existing vehicular and pedestrian circulation system and parking supply will be critical. Ideally this would be a voluntary program where employees commit to parking in outlying areas and preserving the centrally located parking areas for residents and visitors.
In addition, a circulation and parking operations plan will need to be developed and implemented that indicates when a parking lot is full and directs visitors from a full parking lot to the next parking lot where parking may still be available.
The pedestrian must be considered in developing the downtown circulation and parking plan. Currently, pedestrian activity during peak seasons is reaching the capacity of the downtown sidewalk system. New access to shops that would open new pedestrian circulation routes should be explored. As an example, Cleave Street and Wiest Drive could be closed to through traffic and redesigned as a pedestrian streetscape which provides alternative access to the shops along Elkhorn.
Another option is to create a special improvement district to finance construction of parking and transportation.
11. Rocky Mountain National Park Information System: One of the most significant traffic impacts occurs during the peak summer season when there is an afternoon thunder shower and a major exodus from RMNP. During these peak conditions, traffic on US 36/Moraine Avenue backs up from downtown, through Town and into the Park. In the past, there have been fold-down signs placed at key intersections within RMNP, which direct traffic to the north entrance and the US 34 bypass to avoid congestion. It is recommended that as part of the overall circulation and parking management plan, a cooperative arrangement with RMNP be formed to notify the park when the fold-down directional sign should be revealed.
12. US 34 and US 36 Interceptor Parking Lot and Transit System: Transit, along with parking management and other transportation demand measures, can increase capacity through refocusing existing resources. The conceptual transit route operates in concert with the recommended roadside radio information system and parking management plan to influence visitors to park away from the confined Town core and ride the shuttle into downtown. See Map 5.9 (Town Center Transit Route). The following sections address system operations, infrastructure improvements, and preliminary operating and maintenance costs.
The cornerstone of the system is an interceptor park-n-ride lot at the
intersection of US 36/34 south of the Visitor Center. Visitors would be
persuaded to park in this lot and ride the shuttle to the commercial areas
along Elkhorn Avenue and Moraine Avenue downtown. Based on the current
peak season weekend growth rate of 1.8 percent per year, a remote parking
area of between 185 and 235 spaces would be required in ten years, just
to maintain current parking demand-to-supply ratios.
The vehicle assumed for the service is a 30-foot, 30-passenger transit coach. The vehicle is powered by a clean burning diesel engine as standard equipment, for a cost of approximately $195,000. Refurbished used equipment could significantly reduce the capital cost of a transit coach. At an additional cost of approximately $50,000 the vehicle can be powered with a compressed natural gas (CNG) engine. Preferably, a natural gas pipeline connection to a compressor station is needed to fuel the vehicles. If a pipeline connection is not available, precompressed gas can be shipped in, via small 50 gallon containers which can be used to fill a larger storage container.
Based on a preliminary review of the parking opportunities of the Chamber of Commerce, Park Shop areas and Tallant Park areas at the intersection of US 34 and US 36, there is an opportunity to accommodate approximately 115 at-grade parking spaces. This 115-space lot would accommodate 50% to 62% of the projected 10-year demand of 185 to 235 spaces. A full site selection analysis, including capital construction cost estimate and environmental assessment will need to be competed. The transit proposal could be implemented with a surface lot program, and as the service expands and demand grows, additional surface parking or structured parking at the interceptor lot should be explored.
Other infrastructure needs for this solution are minor. At a minimum, signage should be erected at each transit stop. Other stop amenities may include trash receptacle, benches, and possibly shelters at the more highly utilized stops. Street improvements may include curb and gutter work and bus pads. Full analysis of infrastructure needs will be required further in the project development process.
Although the system is too conceptual to accurately estimate capital
costs, preliminary operating and maintenance (O&M) costs can be forecast.
The primary driving forces behind O&M costs are service miles and hours.
Once estimates of miles and hours are developed, they can be applied to
unit costs for each factor. The O&M cost estimates are presented in
Figure 5.4 below, along with the hour and mile unit costs.
13. Traveler Information Stations (TIS) and Highway Advisory Radios (HAR): A major emphasis of the Federal Inter-Modal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) is for states, counties, and municipalities to increase utilization of their existing circulation systems through better management. One such method of system management, which would be very effective in Estes Park, is Traveler Information Systems (TIS) and Highway Advisory Radio (HAR). These are low-powered AM radio stations licensed to government entities by the Federal Communication Commission and used primarily to provide information to motorists. Messages can be broadcast live or from a pre-recorded audio source that periodically cycles through one message or a series of messages. A single antenna near the intersection of US 34 and US 36 to serve both primary incoming corridors would cost approximately $25,000.
Because the transmitters broadcast on the AM radio band, virtually every radio can receive its signal. Unlike FM radio, which travels by line of sight, AM follows the curvature of the earth, which makes it ideally suited for the terrain surrounding Town. In mountainous areas, coverage of 2 to 4 miles would be expected. A message between two and three minutes could be heard twice by the incoming motorist prior to reaching the US 34 and US 36 intersection.
14. Joint Venture Transportation Investments between the Town of Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park: The growth in traffic to the Town of Estes Park is critically correlated to the growth in RMNP visitation. Furthermore, vehicles headed to RMNP travel through the Town of Estes Park and impact the circulation system. It is critical that a cooperative agreement between the Town and RMNP be developed to address both the short and long-term circulation and parking needs for both entities. Sharing the cost of an interceptor parking lot, travel information radio, and transit service that would serve both the Town and RMNP will be an important priority. Sharing in the costs of other circulation improvements to provide improved access through the Town to RMNP is another area for shared financial contributions.
LONG-RANGE TRANSPORTATION PLAN
The Long-Range Transportation Plan as presented in Map 5.10 (Long Range Transportation Plan) defines the transportation improvements and recommendations for the community. Because of the physical limitations of the circulation system within the Town of Estes Park, the long range transportation plan will require both highway and transit improvements. Elements of the Long-Range Transportation Plan are described below.
ARTERIAL STREET AND HIGHWAY CIRCULATION ELEMENT
The Town of Estes Park needs to define appropriate roadway design standards and cross-sections in Phase Three - Implementation. As presented in Map 5.10, the Long-Range Transportation Plan identifies one new roadway: a bypass route from Beaver Point to US 34 west of the downtown area.
DEVELOP OUTLYING PARKING AREAS WITH MASS TRANSIT
A successful future Long-Range Transportation Plan will be contingent on a remote outlying parking area with a mass transit system tied to downtown and to RMNP. Initially, the interceptor parking lot can be located at the existing Visitor Center. As demand grows, an additional full service interceptor parking lot and transit center will need to be provided. As demand for RMNP continues to increase, there will be an ever-increasing need to serve future demand during peak periods through transit. Ideally, the staging areas for this transit service could occur at the proposed interceptor parking area along US 34 and 36.
VALLEY-WIDE TRAIL SYSTEM
The Town of Estes Park's Valley-wide trail system is presented in Map 5.11 (Hike and Bike Trails Plan). Part of the solution to improve the trail system will be to improve the current arterial street standards (i.e., add shoulders to the arterials to accommodate bicycles and pedestrians). As roadways are improved or resurfaced, shoulders and bike/hike trails should be added and included in the overall improvement plan.
CREATE BI-PASS ROUTE
Develop a U.S. 36 to U.S. 34 bi-pass connection, west of downtown.
Next chapter - Chapter
6 - Purpose and Use of the Plan