Time to slow down, all around | VailDaily.com

Time to slow down, all around

Alan Braunholtz

Warning signs ask motorists to watch out for wildlife. Few choose to slow down, with the predictable result of a daily supply of dead deer and mangled cars. Delicate legs posed to flee, wary eyes and focused, twitching ears give deer an aura of fearful persecution. They should. They’ve evolved as prey to many fearsome predators. Speeding cars are a recent addition to natural selection pressures on deer, and they really haven’t worked out what to do. The standard startle-threat response of winging it at full speed only works a few times.We know what to do. Slowing down gives us and them more time for avoidance. But driving, like many of our choices in life, seems to be a “speed ahead, react rather than choose” activity. For the deer and, according to insurance companies, car owners this is often a bad choice.The best sign to slow a driver down is a mangled mess of legs lying on its side by the road. It’s an unpleasant sight and they get removed. Pity. If we left them, the sheer number of bodies might provoke some action. Probably should leave car wrecks lying around, too. The sight of twisted cars lined up in garage-towing yards makes me a more cautious driver as the cocoon of invincibility is briefly lifted.Looks like CD0T’s made up its mind to add more lanes to alleviate I-70’s congestion. Most research shows that this means more traffic, and congestion will quickly rise to the previous level. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you want more traffic and the business it brings. If you don’t like the noise, pollution, expense of building the extra lanes, dead deer and other bad impacts, it is. Any improvements to I-70 should look further than merely adding lanes. Elevating sections, building tunnels, etc., are expensive but will make a difference to the quality of life of people living near I-70.Short term, removing accident hot spots, reducing speeding and other dangerous driving will probably work. Most jams I’ve been in are the result of a crash. Banning trucks during peak periods would help. It would generate a lot of grumbling from truckers before the marvels of business adaptability made it all work. Accepting that Denver is 100 miles away, over two high mountain passes, and that we’re not a suburb is important. If we make ourselves into that, we’ll have huge quality of life issues as more unplanned and explosive growth occurs. As with driving, we’re choosing to ignore the potential consequences of not planning ahead. Any trip to the sprawling suburbs of Denver should give us cause to think: Is this what I want? Sure, the multiple box stores are convenient, but they do come with a lot of baggage that may not be appropriate to the why we live up here and not down there. The traffic bottleneck may be an effective means to limit growth, at least till our local governments show some willingness to direct future growth. At the moment we’re just reacting to what we see, often too late.Life is special up here, and this is a reason talk of bubbles bursting in the national housing market is dismissed as not applicable. “We’re a lifestyle market, not a speculative one.” Turn that market into an I-70 corridor of mall sprawl and who knows? Luckily, Vail is hemmed in by public lands, which limits the damage we can do. But Edwards, Eagle, Gypsum and now Minturn aren’t so much.Eagle County Commissioner Peter Runyon is pointing out the threats that unplanned and unlimited growth can have on our quality of life. Controlling growth is good for our economy beyond keeping the valley as a special place to visit and live, which is really what our economy is based on.Directing development to where the infrastructure can support it saves everyone money. New services aren’t duplicated and the developer doesn’t have to build new roads. Planned development allows the infrastructure to be built, concurrently limiting congestion, shortage of schools, water treatment, etc. Hopefully, he’ll succeed in getting the local towns on board and we’ll get some sort of plan for the pace and place of future growth. With a plan the public will know the where and how and there’ll be less of those last-minute campaigns to stop everything when someone is shocked by the site of a bulldozer in their favorite field. Input through local officials (perhaps why we elected Mr. Runyon) is a much more efficient and predictable way to control growth than last-minute protests. Predictability is good for any economy.Eaton Ranch is a complex issue here. It’s close to the hub of Edwards and fits the criteria for infill development near existing infrastructure, which most see as smart growth. I wish some deal could have been reached to save the riverfront for public use while allowing reduced development in the gravel pit. Instead we got “all or nothing” – rarely a good choice either way. If you think growth is too fast, then “nothing” beats “all,” but the middle is where we should be on this one.I don’t see much relief for the frightened deer playing Russian roulette as they travel across the highways. They’re not worth the money in our budget. Again, it’s seen as a “traffic or wildlife” choice, though if you’ve ever hit one what’s good for the elk is good for you, too.If we want to keep our elk, deer and mountain lifestyles, we’re going to have to plan and pay for that choice with our highways and our houses. Life is a series of choices and trade-offs. Herds of elk at the side of the road are a scary symbol of what we can choose to save or run over at a significant cost to ourselves.Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily.Vail, Colorado

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