Anyone who drives Gregory Lane right before or after school hours knows how hard it is to see students on the side of the road.
Parked cars almost spill into the street, leaving little to no room for kids and obscuring visibility. There’s no sidewalk, the lanes are tight, and the S-curve near the north end is tricky to navigate when a school bus or another large vehicle, most likely going to one of the businesses in the industrial stretch, is coming in the other direction.
Director of Public Works Larry Pardee knows that. He also knows there is no easy solution, and that’s why there are no immediate plans to revamp the corridor to make it safer for pedestrians.
“It’s a big one,” Pardee said. “It’s been something we’ve been looking at. But costs can be staggering, and you need to take into context the neighborhood needs.”
Assistant Superintendent Jeff Daugherty and other members of the Teton County School District No. 1 staff are also aware of the less-than-ideal traffic patterns on Gregory Lane.
That’s one of the reasons bus service is provided for students along the route, but not every student rides that bus every day. It’s common to see older children skateboarding to class or younger students, sometimes with backpacks almost their size, scuffing through gravel or slush on the side of the road.
During the September board of trustees meeting Daugherty mentioned incorporating a sidewalk or path that juts off Gregory Lane, through private property, and gets kids onto district property — the softball fields near the skate park — sooner. The trustees were hearing an update on paving the parking lot near those fields.
When asked for more details, spokesperson Charlotte Reynolds said Daugherty wasn’t ready to talk about anything more, given that the plans were so preliminary and other stakeholders hadn’t been approached.
“We always have safety as a first and highest priority,” Reynolds said. “Any opportunities that may exist for us to explore and ideas for enhanced safety would be something the district would certainly be interested in pursuing. Obviously our first priority is making sure our kids are safe whether they are at school or on their way to and from school.”
The idea of a sidewalk cutting through private property to get students off Gregory Lane faster from the north isn’t a new idea: It’s in a charrette, or meeting in which stakeholders in a project attempt to resolve conflicts and map solutions, dated from May 2000.
The planning documents show the complexities of changing Gregory Lane and detail the most recent comprehensive look at the roadway.
A huge complicating factor, Pardee said, is the limited amount of right of way the town has. Property lines come right down to the road, and for a sidewalk to be put in the town of Jackson would need to buy land from private owners without breaking the bank.
A normal road, considered “complete,” is usually 60 feet wide. Gregory Lane is only 40.
But finding the minimum right of way necessary isn’t the only constraint. Another is the nature of the area, which Pardee described as “light industrial.”
“How do you also allow large delivery access vehicles? What about parking? This is a mind twister,” he said. “All the elements are interconnected.”
Competing objectives, Pardee said, are present at every turn.
“They’re all important, but we can’t do them all,” Pardee said, speaking hypothetically about changes to the corridor. “We’re going to have to compromise and reach consensus along the way if it’s ever going to work.”
Pardee sketched out several options for Gregory Lane. One idea could include an “oversize” one-way street with a one-way pedestrian section. That could mean giving up less private property. Another idea is to have sidewalks on both sides.
“My hunch is most of the community would support an oversized safe passage for pedestrians, especially children,” Pardee said.
Estimates for the work needed would be between $6 million and $9 million. That’s because water and sewer systems are also in need of being updated. Pardee said he would want to see detailed traffic modeling of the relationship and interaction between other roads surrounding Gregory Lane before anything was finalized.
Renovations to make Gregory Lane safer for pedestrians, while still taking into consideration the industrial nature of the area, tend to make it somewhere on the town’s 10-year capital improvement model. But that’s no guarantee.
“It’s a guide, it’s not etched in stone,” Pardee said.
Every year, the Jackson Town Council adopts a new budget, which shifts priorities. Pardee estimated that if a project ever did receive the go-ahead it would take at least three years to get off the ground, including property acquisitions and design.
“We would have built it years ago if it was that simple,” he said. “But we are committed to finding a solution sooner rather than later. We ask for patience.”