Vail Daily column: Avon street changes enhance heart of town
In a community, streets are not only a place for cars to travel from point A to point B, but a place to walk your dog, talk to neighbors, ride your bike, get some fresh air, and literally run some errands. Last year, Avon began a process of reviewing our town’s streets to ensure they are safe for all users — walkers, bikers, cars, locals and tourists. In the 2015 Avon Community Survey, respondents identified that two of their top priorities for the next five years are to create a more walkable downtown and increase pedestrian safety and access. West Beaver Creek Boulevard already needs a minimum of $750,000 of required maintenance, which makes it a prime candidate for additional enhancements and improvements. It is clear that more pedestrian crossings are needed, but to ensure they are safe, and simply painting some crosshatches on the street would not be enough. Some traffic calming (slowing) measures will also be required.
Why do we need to change the design of West Beaver Creek Boulevard to enhance pedestrian safety? Fewer than one-third of drivers drive the speed limit; rather, they drive the design of the road. Half of all people hit by a car traveling at 30 mph will not survive. The design and visual cues of the street need to help slow traffic to prevent potentially severe or fatal injuries. Methods to achieve this include narrowing the car travel lanes, adding on-street parking and creating bump-outs and other structural elements. The test striping has narrowed the lanes too much so it will be addressed in the redesign process, however, the additional pedestrian crossings are heavily used, as was predicted by the many citizens who requested them.
As Avon has worked through this process, we have learned that the benefits for the community are far more than simply safety. “Walkability plays a big part in an area’s economic vibrancy,” says Scott Bricker, executive director of America Walks. “The most valuable real estate around the world is in walkable places, places where people are living and working in closer proximity.” A 2012 Brookings Institution study found a strong positive relationship between walkability and signs of economic vitality office, retail and residential rents, retail revenues and residential sales prices.
In addition to increased economic vitality, a walkable community impacts peoples’ health. “The more active people are, the more inclined they are to walk throughout their life and the longer they will live,” said Dan Burden, the national walkability expert the town of Avon partnered with to lead community members through a walkability workshop in July 2015. The report that resulted from this “walkshop” with business owners, community members, town staff and council members outlined many of the changes reflected in the tested striping implemented today on West Beaver Creek Boulevard. The complete report can be found at http://www.Avon.org.
The final design has not yet been determined, and therefore, the final cost of construction is not known. Based on valuable community input, the designated bike lane may be eliminated and parking may continue to evolve to ensure appropriate sight lines for all users. More tests may be implemented before the final design is approved. The town, however, is avoiding any changes to curbs and gutters, which would unnecessarily increase the cost of this project.
This is only one project discussed to enhance the heart of Avon during last year’s “walkshop.” The town is also working on improving wayfinding to guide walkers to amenities such as Nottingham Park, the library, restaurants and shops with easily read directions and approximate walking times to reach the destination. Also, the recommended connection from Nottingham Park to the Eagle Valley Trail was recently included in the 2016 Trails Master Plan.
Avon is a small town with an active population. Having a wide, interstate-like road in the middle of our town makes Avon look like an outdated, urban landscape. By adding greenery, narrowing the lanes and building safe and attractive crossings, we are creating a vibrant people-centered place for locals and visitors to enjoy for years to come.
Megan Burch is a member of the Avon Town Council.