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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Wednesday, May 19, 2004


Will Ketchum cater to cars or people?

Consultant presents options to city

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum is at a crossroads.

With a turn in one direction, the city could become a busy thoroughfare designed to accommodate thousands of cars and commuters. By taking an alternate route, it could become a pedestrian friendly locale that encourages residents and visitors to leave their gas-guzzlers at home.

That was the core message transportation consultant Michael Birdsall presented to the Ketchum City Council Monday, May 17.

Vehicular traffic on Main Street in Ketchum backs up regularly during peak commuter hours, particularly in the city’s commercial core. Express photo by David N. Seelig

Birdsall, a transportation planner for the Meridian-based consulting firm Earth Tech, appeared before the council to issue a beefy, 136-page final report on what the city can do to meet its existing and future transportation needs.

The long-awaited report—which was commissioned in 2002—is chock full of assessments of how the city can maximize transportation efficiency with new traffic signals, travel lanes and public transit options.

Birdsall said Earth Tech eliminated many major projects considered to reduce traffic congestion in Ketchum, but at the same time chose to offer the city numerous options for molding its future.

Amid the myriad of options presented by Birdsall Monday was a note of caution that growth will occur and thousands of cars will continue to flow in and out of Ketchum every day.

"We’re not going to make this thing feel like there is zero congestion," he said.

What was left in the final set of recommendations to the city was a mix of mostly small-scale projects to improve roads, sidewalks and public transit.

Left out of the Earth Tech recommendations were plans to turn Second Avenue into a major downtown-bypass route, establish a one-way street grid throughout the downtown core, or possibly construct a tunnel under Main Street to accommodate more vehicles.

The final recommendations put forth by Earth Tech do not propose to broadly increase the supply of roadways in the city, Birdsall said, largely because such an approach would conflict with the city’s self-stated goal of maintaining its "small-town character."

A set of short-term recommendations issued by Birdsall includes:

  • Adding two new traffic signals on Main Street, where it intersects with Second and Fourth streets.

  • Expanding the Ketchum Area Rapid Transit bus system and the Peak Bus system.

  • Implementing paid parking per the April recommendations of Oregon-based consultant Kittelson & Associates.

  • Completing a network of pedestrian friendly sidewalks.

  • Developing a corridor for pedestrian and bicycle traffic along Fourth Street.

Birdsall said increasing public bus service while implementing paid parking in the city would serve to limit the demand for vehicular travel into Ketchum.

"There is a relationship between parking price and transit success," he said.

Birdsall’s long-term recommendations issued to the council include:

  • Installing so-called "traffic-calming" measures, such as landscaping and sidewalks, on Second Avenue.

  • Erecting new traffic signals or roundabouts at the intersections of Warm Springs Road with Lewis and Tenth streets.

  • Installing a traffic signal or "gateway" roundabout at the intersection of Highway 75 and Serenade Lane.

The true challenge for city officials will come, Birdsall said, in addressing what to do with Main Street and Trail Creek Bridge.

A city decision to maintain two lanes over Trail Creek could foster other changes on Main Street that would generally accommodate fewer cars and more pedestrians. A four-lane bridge across the creek could, in turn, encourage more traffic flow on Main Street.

Council President Randy Hall said he would like to see the city limit the number of cars that pass through its confines.

"I think that’s something we need to decide," he said. "Are we pedestrian friendly or are we car friendly?"

The city, however, does not have full control over the future of Main Street and Trail Creek Bridge. The Idaho Transportation Department has final jurisdiction over what changes are made to the roadway, which is technically part of state Highway 75.

City officials must also give consideration to the estimated costs of the recommended actions.

Birdsall said the proposed improvements to sidewalks and bike paths would cost approximately $500,000. Road improvements would likely cost an additional $500,000. Transit projects would range upwards of $1 million.

City Administrator Ron LeBlanc immediately took notice of the estimated costs.

"This has been a very expensive night," he said.

City Council members have not determined if they will approve the report in full or will seek only to endorse specific projects.


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