Summit County’s LetsGoSummit flyers and website are gorgeous. Soothing green and blue fonts explain how the new Jeremy Ranch and Pinebrook roundabouts will “improve mobility and safety and protect the environment while enhancing the economic vitality of Summit County.” There’s even a cute graphic at the top with a bus, a traffic signal, and a bicycle.
So it’s unfortunate that Summit County has decided to throw pedestrians and cyclists under the proverbial bus.
For years, Summit County has been working on getting people out of their cars and onto buses and bikes. The county spent millions on a park-and-ride by Ecker Hill and hundreds of thousands more on connecting it to the rest of the bus network. They launched an electric bike-share program in 2017 with the hope that residents will use rented bikes instead of their cars.
E-bikes have the potential to make those shorter commutes easy and fun. As prices drop and bikes continue to improve, the potential exists to get a LOT of people out of their cars. Riding an E-bike is an incredible experience. For a town with as many problems with traffic congestion as Park City, a fun and short commute via an E-bike is a dream come true.
That’s if they can ride safely, of course. For most people, that means minimal riding on surface streets with speed limits over 25mph. Once you’re out of your immediate neighborhood, you need to be away from the cars. Luckily we have a fantastic network of bike paths that we can use to get almost anywhere.
So when we examined the plans for the new roundabouts, we were shocked to see that instead of off-grade crossings to allow residents of Pinebrook and Jeremy Ranch to access the Rasmussen and Kilby paths, the county plans merely to install crosswalks. CROSSWALKS.
If you’re riding, walking, or otherwise commuting without a car, you’ll have to cross the roundabout at least once and often twice to access the trail – unless you want to roll the dice and ride in the road with the cars.
Even worse, kids walking, skateboarding, or biking to JRES or Ecker will have to negotiate the roundabouts on their way to school – during the busiest times of day.
How bad can that be? You might ask. Well, pretty bad, really.
Most of you are familiar with the roundabouts in Kimball Junction. Some of you may have even tried to cross them at busy times and struggled to get drivers to stop, or had to sprint or dart back to avoid being run over. If you’re like many of us, you’ve come close to hitting pedestrians even when you’re alert and paying attention.
The problem for pedestrians when entering a roundabout is that drivers entering often only to look to their left to see if they can merge. Drivers exiting have a clear shot and often don’t look left or right at all. Of course, a pedestrian has to cross both lanes (entering and exiting traffic) and contend with 2 sets of drivers who aren’t looking where they’re trying to cross from.
For cars, roundabouts are great. Traffic can flow faster, more safely, and we’ll hopefully reduce congestion during rush hour (anyone who has tried to turn left from the I80 exit ramps knows how bad it can get). There’s no question we need major improvements for vehicles.
However, building them without off-grade crossings (tunnels) will hamstring the bike/pedestrian path system – who cares how many miles of path there is, if we have to risk our lives to access it? Who on earth is going to send their kid off to school on their bike knowing our little ones will have to cross the roundabouts during the morning rush?
We contacted Krachel Murdock, the spokesperson for Summit County, and asked why the county chose to do this, and she said, “There are not underpasses of Pinebrook Blvd. or Homestead due to costs and physical constraints. It is anticipated there will be sufficient gaps in traffic to safely cross pedestrians.”
We then asked what the county planned to do if there weren’t sufficient gaps in traffic and she responded, “Plan B would be future underpasses of Pinebrook Blvd and Homestead. Surface crossings are used at many roundabouts where there is heavy traffic and pedestrian use, such as the roundabout at WalMart. The County monitors traffic conditions at our busiest intersections and proposes solutions when problems exist.”
There are 2 interesting things about this response: Most people wouldn’t send their kids to cross the Walmart roundabout for a million bucks. It’s terrifying! Does the county really think that is an example of a safe intersection for pedestrians and bikes, let alone one that will encourage biking and walking? Second, c
We followed up again by asking if the county anticipates that the pedestrian situation at the new roundabouts will be similar to that of the Walmart roundabout, but did not receive a response.
Let’s be clear – the roundabouts are needed. If the county is sincere in wanting more residents to commute without getting in their cars, though, they are failing miserably here.
If you build something that terrifies parents and bike riders, they will just drive to their destination and never attempt to cross the crosswalks. Traffic engineers will look at the traffic and say “well, there’s no problem – no near misses, no accidents, pedestrian safety is great.” But that will only be because no pedestrians are willing to risk the crossing. And the county will wonder why they can’t get people out of their cars.
The e-bike share program won’t help if we don’t have the physical infrastructure in place for people to safely ride anywhere.
The county is being pennywise and
If you ride your bike from Summit Park, Pinebrook, or Jeremy into Kimball Junction (or beyond), the roundabouts (as planned) will introduce danger into your routine. If you have children that go to Jeremy Ranch Elementary School, the danger is almost unfathomable. Or more succinctly put, kids won’t ride their bikes or walk to school for fear of trying to cross the six-way roundabout.
If you don’t care, please don’t complain about traffic in the future. These are the little (and important) steps that our community needs to take to address traffic. A million buses won’t solve our traffic issues. However, if we can design our pathways to be bike and human-friendly we have a chance to make things better.
The upcoming Jeremy and Pinebrook roundabouts are anything but human-friendly. Let’s hope we can come up with a better solution than crosswalks. If not, we will end up with a worse solution for pedestrians and bikers than we have now.