With safety a concern at some of Durango’s pedestrian crossings, namely Seventh and 12th streets at Camino del Rio, the blame game seems to be a two-way street.
Phillip Fraser was on his way to work one late Sunday morning. He approached the “high-intensity activated crosswalk” at 12th and Camino. He pushed the button and patiently waited.
After a few steps into the four-lane road, a highway at that point, two separate cars – one after another – flew before him, under red lights.
Fraser didn’t bat an eye.
“Look at this,” he said. “One, two – all the time, everybody seems like they want to run me over. I push the button, I wait two minutes and still, I run for my life.”
It’s the same story, if not worse, five blocks to the south at Seventh and Camino, where a rash of incidents has occurred.
Arlene George and her husband, Lyndsey, live on the west side of town and said they see confused drivers wherever they cross the busy road.
“I notice that a lot of people will run the red light if they don’t understand why there is a light there,” Arlene George said.
“Those intersections are a nightmare in a car, let alone on foot,” Lyndsey George said.
Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Nancy Shanks said none of the changes made to any crosswalk alters the rules of the road.
“If you see a yellow light, you yield and proceed with caution,” Shanks said. “When you see a red light, you stop. When you see a red flashing light, you treat it like a four-way stop. This should all take us back to our drivers-ed courses.”
She also said the newly completed “continuous-flow intersection” at Camino del Rio and U.S. Highway 550/160 may have added to some confusion in the area.
“We put a big work zone in our city center, and there (were) barrels and cones and lane shifts, and then we’ve added cycling and pedestrian features,” she said.
The crossings at Camino del Rio and Seventh and 12th streets do not have stoplights; they have pedestrian-triggered crossings. The Seventh Street intersection even has a “pedestrian refuge,” like an island in a lava flow.
Shanks said many new traffic-control features, including the Highway 550/160 junction, come from the Department of Transportation bible: “Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.”
“We don’t just pull these out of our back pocket,” she said. “And we didn’t create the traffic, but we’re charged with accommodating it. The same goes for supplemental devices that help pedestrians.”
She said she hopes drivers and pedestrians will learn how to correctly use the new systems, which are popping up all over the state and country. It will take time to get familiar.
“They’re simply traffic devices meant to increase yielding compliance of vehicles,” Shanks said. “Is there going to be 100 percent compliance? Unfortunately, no, but it is helping.”
At 11:15 a.m. August 8, a pedestrian pushed the crosswalk light at 12th Street and waited to cross. Nearly to the other side, a gray sedan slowed to let him pass but honked to hurry him along. When the pedestrian didn’t rush, the driver of the sedan threw up his hands in frustration. As soon as he could, he roared through the intersection.
Twenty minutes later, a cyclist sped across two lanes into the middle of Camino del Rio, never even glancing at the traffic lights. Then he had to wait for cars before he could continue west, so he pedaled north. To cross, he had to return south and ride with traffic until he made a bold break for it.
It’s like watching a game of Frogger.
Later, George Schmidt called it “just dangerous,” as he wearily crossed at 12th Street under the relative protection of the HAWK light.
“We need a tunnel,” he said. “This is very confusing in my opinion.”
The tunnel idea isn’t far-fetched. Durango City Council voted Aug. 5 to pitch in a $37,000 grant toward a $150,000 feasibility study for an arts and sciences park along the Animas River next to the Powerhouse Science Center. A tunnel could connect the park and downtown Durango.
At 4:47 p.m. one August afternoon at 12th Street and Camino, a young man stopped and pushed the HAWK button. He waited, shifting his weight foot to foot. Restless, he began to cross, freaking out drivers in the process. It was a dangerous scene. By the time he dropped his skateboard and kicked off down the sidewalk, the pedestrian crossing lights activated, and traffic came to a halt. But no one was there. An off-key orchestra of horns began to blare.
“The key is calling attention,” Shanks said. “When you have supplemental crossings, it will increase safety but not going to prevent 100 percent of accidents.”