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Colorado Springs engineers, police seek ways to reduce hazards on crash-prone streets

November 16, 2014 Updated: November 17, 2014 at 10:26 am
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photo - Northbound traffic is routed off I-25 after a rollover crash tied up northbound I-25  at Uintah Street at rush hour Monday, May 19, 2014. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette
Northbound traffic is routed off I-25 after a rollover crash tied up northbound I-25 at Uintah Street at rush hour Monday, May 19, 2014. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

The Colorado Springs Police Department has investigated more than two dozen fatal crashes this year, though none happened where you might expect.

Colorado Springs motorists are all too familiar with traffic headaches borne from fender benders on the well-trafficked Woodmen Road and Interstate 25 interchange, but no one has died on it this year. The same goes for Interstate 25 interchanges at Fillmore Street and Garden of the Gods Road, even though all three are among Colorado Springs' most crash-prone intersections and interchanges.

City Transportation Manager Kathleen Krager chalks the crashes up to high traffic volume and driver error, but traffic engineers constantly look at ways to improve safety and modify driving behavior.

"Typically, high accident locations are the result of traffic volumes and congestion. These areas usually have slower moving traffic due to the congestion, and slower traffic tends to have less serious accidents," Krager said in an email. "It doesn't necessarily mean that there's engineering that needs to be done."

When it comes to traffic enforcement, the Colorado Springs Police Department's motorcycle unit, composed of 18 officers and two sergeants, focuses its efforts on school zones, neighborhood complaints and a list of 50 top crash locations compiled by the crime analysis unit, said Colorado Springs police Lt. Scott Schwall, who oversees the motorcycle and major accidents unit.

City traffic engineers and the Police Department examine the frequency and severity of crashes to identify possible predictors, Schwall said.

"If there are predictors, can something be done to change the accidents? We are constantly evaluating speed limits on streets to see if they are safe for the road design."

An example of a trend they might look for: a pattern of T-bone wrecks involving cars making left-hand turns. Krager said such a scenario would indicate a "sight distance" problem - something that would prevent drivers from seeing each other in time to avoid a collision.

Traffic engineers have several projects in the works to deal with such issues.

The intersection of Nevada Avenue and Southgate Road, for example, is prone to crashes and congestion - which go hand in hand, Krager said.

So the city is adding an additional westbound lane at the intersection. The project also is updating the traffic signal and widening the northbound left turn lane from Nevada Avenue onto Southgate Road.

In other parts of the city, projects include a plan to build a roundabout at International Circle and Printer's Parkway -where Krager said a wide median caused confusion for drivers - and an expansion of Powers Boulevard between Platte Avenue and Fountain Boulevard.

Adding bike lanes, medians, on-street parking or striping or making a straight road slightly more curvy with artificial features can reduce speed and impact driving behavior. "Road dieting," or reducing lanes of traffic, helps prevent speeding on roads where congestion is not a concern.

"When we do a project like that, cars (that are driving the speed limit) set the pace of the traffic," said city senior transportation planner Tim Roberts, who oversees several neighborhood traffic calming projects.

Drivers feel more comfortable speeding in wider lanes, so a road narrowed with bike lanes, for example, affects the driver's comfort level, he said.

Last month, Roberts held a neighborhood meeting for a project underway for Parkview Boulevard between Skyway Boulevard and Cresta Road, where residents reported a speeding problem.

"We're going to put in entry features - a landscape median and signage - so that people understand they're entering a neighborhood," Roberts said.

Bike lanes were added in September on Templeton Gap Road. In mid-October, traffic engineers implemented a road diet on Costilla Street, from Memorial Park to downtown. Two bike lanes were added, Roberts said.

Like the residents in Parkview, neighborhoods that experience problems with drivers can report them to the city.

Roberts receives several requests a week, but before city workers survey an area, 50 percent of people living on the affected road must sign a petition, Roberts said.

"If we get that number, then we will go out, collect that data and verify that their concerns reflect reality," he said.

If the problem is with people who live in the neighborhood, as opposed to drivers cutting through, they often send a letter to neighborhood residents reminding them not to speed.

"It's a quick and easy way to remind people that hey, we are in a neighborhood," he said. "We let the police know about it too, so if they can work in additional reinforcement to that area, they will."

Traffic calming and changes in road design can only go so far, though.

"Red light runners, we can't do anything about that. DUIs, we can't do anything about that," Roberts said.

Factors such as speeding or not paying attention are common causes of some of the most severe crashes, Krager said.

In other cases, drugs and alcohol are involved.

In July, the safety of the curves on a stretch of road on Murray Boulevard near Bijou Street were questioned after a 5-year-old boy was killed and his father seriously injured by a driver who lost control on the curve, hitting them as they walked on the sidewalk. According to court documents, the driver was going 50 mph in a 35 mph zone.

In August, concerns were raised about the timing of traffic signals at Bradley and Marksheffel roads after a 10-year-old boy and his mother, the driver, died after colliding with a truck. According to a traffic report, the lights were working at the time of the crash. An autopsy report later found that the driver had methamphetamine in her system.

Still, motorists are encouraged to let the city know about potential hazards on the roads, either through an email or a phone call.

"If you are driving in an intersection, and you're feeling unsafe . you should let us know, because there might be something we can do to fix it," Krager said. "We get a lot of our affirmation about safety problems from citizens that drive every day."

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Contact Lisa Walton: 476-1623

Twitter @LisaWaltonCO

Facebook: lisa.walton.92372

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