Polarizing white posts installed along Snow King Avenue have attracted praise from cyclists — and a litany of complaints from motorists.
“The new poles are ill-conceived, hideous, unnecessary and unwanted,” Stacey King Brogan said. “We can certainly do better than this to safely accommodate the many, many cyclists and motorists who use this busy thoroughfare.”
On the other hand, daily Snow King user Craig Benjamin called the new setup “one of the most exciting things that’s ever happened in this town.
“It makes that road significantly safer for both people driving and for people who want to ride bikes,” Benjamin said. “The town of Jackson has been missing an east-west connector that’s safe for people who aren’t comfortable riding in traffic, or who aren’t comfortable with a simple stripe of paint protecting them from a car.”
Benjamin used to be scared to bike Snow King with his kids. But he felt safer last weekend with the new “bollards,” as they’re known, when his family cycled from west Jackson to Jackson Hole Live.
“The cars are going slower and the people driving are paying more attention,” he said.
The Benjamins are exactly the target audience for the changes to Snow King. The bollards are one aspect of the town and Friends of Pathways’ effort to make the main bike route across town comfortable and safe for more users, especially families and younger kids.
“The intent of this is to really focus on safety for all road users,” Pathways Coordinator Brian Schilling said.
Other features include bright green paint in crossing zones, intended to increase awareness of cyclists. Coming later this week are low rubber curbs to channel cyclists through potential danger areas, like the Scott Lane-Maple Way intersection, and planters in the bike lane near the intersection with Elk Run meant to clarify where cyclists wait to cross Maple Way (the town nixed its original plan to reorganize the lanes so that the parked cars offer a buffer between the travel lane and the bike lane).
Schilling said he has heard mixed feedback, as expected, but he’s been encouraged by a positive response from most cyclists. Friends of Pathways Communications Director Lauren Dickey said the project is achieving its goals of making the roadway safer and slower.
“It’s been a work in progress,” Dickey said, “We’ve been trying to address some of the real concerns people have, but also the cyclists have been incredibly positive.”
Some users said it felt like the bike lane setup popped up out of nowhere. The plan was featured in a News&Guide article and included in Friends of Pathways newsletters, Schilling pointed out, and was presented publicly April 16 before the Jackson Town Council. Mayor Pete Muldoon said increased traffic congestion means people are increasingly riding bikes.
“Our roads are shared by a variety of users, from bike riders to tractor trailers and everything in between,” Muldoon said. “We’re trying to find a balance that respects the needs of all road users, and, most importantly, ensures that everyone in the community who needs to use the roads can do so safely.”
However, other town agencies were as surprised at the new white posts as residents. START Director Darren Brugmann said he wished START had been included in the project before installation of the new bike lane dividers. Upon installation of the posts, START immediately heard from drivers.
“We’re just not sure why the bike lanes are so wide,” Brugmann said. “They took away too much of the driving lanes. It’s very problematic for us when we pass another large vehicle, and especially when 2 buses are passing side by side. It’s extremely tight.”
The pathways office and Friends of Pathways have been receptive to making adjustments for START, Brugmann said, which is appreciated. Last week, Schilling did a START bus ridealong, working with transit staff to remove 12 markers that were in START’s way at bus stops. But Brugmann said the road remains challenging for buses to navigate.
“We still feel the lanes are way too narrow for our buses, especially when two buses are passing each other,” Brugmann said.
Jackson Police Chief Todd Smith said the plan wasn’t presented directly to the cops before installation, but he’s working with the pathways office now to make alterations needed for police and emergency responders.
“There really isn’t a shoulder of the road,” Smith said, which could be a problem if an police car needs to do a U-turn to pursue a vehicle or an ambulance has to get through when both driving lanes are occupied by cars.
Smith advised people to use “a common-sense approach until pathways can reassess the need for the number of cones that are there.” Smith met with Schilling Tuesday and suggested some bollards on straightaways could be removed to allow for bigger gaps where vehicles can pull over when necessary. Schilling said he’ll implement Smith’s suggestions later this week.
Comments from the general public have focused on the “narrowing” of the driving lanes. Many of the flexible plastic posts already bear scuff marks from run-ins with vehicles.
“In my recent travels on Snow King, I was almost hit twice by oncoming vehicles due to the fact of the narrowness of this street,” Julie Hodges wrote to town councilors, “because they were driving in my lane to avoid the poles.”
Complaints have been especially loud from those who need to drive horse trailers down Snow King to the rodeo grounds.
“We travel that road a lot with a horse trailer, and it is especially bad when another truck (with wide mirrors) and trailer is coming towards us,” Rob Kinsey wrote. “I don’t want those poles damaging our trailer fenders, much more sideswiping another vehicle. Please move them closer to the curb, or better, remove them altogether.”
Since the installation Schilling has worked with other stakeholders like the rodeo grounds and the Coors distributor to remove problem bollards. But he said that may come at the price of ensuring the safest route for cyclists.
“It’s a challenging situation in that the intersections are where cyclists are at the most risk, but there’s also a need to accommodate turning motions for larger vehicles,” Schilling said.
Schilling emphasized that tweaks like this were expected for the pilot project, saying it’s an imperfect test of new ideas.
“It’s plastic and paint,” Schilling said. “All of this is completely reversible.”
Further, while the bollards constitute a “visual change” that will require people to adjust, Schilling said the lane width actually hasn’t changed. From the center line to the delineator posts is 10 feet 9 inches, which is a standard width even for large vehicles, he said. Part of the point of the delineators is to make the lane feel narrower so drivers pay more attention and go slower, sticking to the posted 25 mph speed limit. That seems to be working.
“It does make the road feel slimmer, which instinctively made me slow down,” David Vandenberg, who drives and bikes the stretch, observed. “Then I looked at my speedometer and realized I was going 25 miles per hour. I don’t think I had ever noticed the speed limit was 25 mph there.”
Because the new layout was imposed on existing streets, Schilling said the current layout is a “cheap knockoff” of a true protected bike lane. A longer-term, more permanent solution would require costly adjustments to grades and curbs to separate the bike lane physically.
Schilling said Snow King Avenue was selected because it sees hundreds of cyclists each day in the summertime. The average number of daily summer trips on the route is 771, according to Friends of Pathways.
The town and nonprofit advocacy group Friends of Pathways hired Dutch transportation design firm MobyCon for $20,000 to design the project, splitting the costs. The total installation costs are not yet available, Schilling said. But he estimated the annual upkeep could cost around $17,000 a year, including removal of the poles for the winter season.
Schilling said vehicles going slower, driving the speed limit, avoiding texting while driving, and paying more attention increases the safety of all road users. And running over a flexible bollard is a better outcome than running over a kid on a bike.
“It’s about making our streets safe enough that a kid has the freedom to ride to baseball practice, or to the library, or to her friend’s house, independently and safely,” Schilling said. “It’s about providing freedom for people who choose to use a bike, or for people who can’t drive a car, a safe option to get to work, pick up kids, and attend community events. Nobody’s freedom is being taken away — anybody can still make the choice to drive and no one is being forced to give up their car — it’s just about making it safer and giving everyone another option to beat traffic and get around town safely.”