speed limit

Telluride Town Council voted to reduce the speed limit on Colorado Avenue between Aspen and Willow streets to 7 mph this summer, effective Saturday. (Photo by Justin Criado/Telluride Daily Planet)

While rockstar Sammy Hagar can’t drive 55 mph, some people in town, including two Telluride Town Council members, can’t drive 7 mph.

An ordinance to lower the speed limit from 15 mph to 7 mph on Colorado Avenue between Aspen and Willow streets was passed during Tuesday’s virtual council meeting, but it wasn’t without some debate. The ordinance will go into effect Saturday and run through Oct. 30, as council members focused on reducing the Main Street speed limit during the summer, when there will be more pedestrians out and about, including in town-approved parklets — outdoor extensions of restaurants built in the parking lane — along Colorado Avenue.

Council member Tom Watkinson, who was initially in favor of the speed limit reduction when it was discussed in March during first reading, had since changed his mind and cast the lone dissenting vote. He cited that the lower speed limit will cause motorists to take Pacific and Columbia avenues in an effort to avoid the slow lull of Main Street traffic.

“For me, the people have spoken, and are boggled by all of this on so many different levels. I’m changing my vote to a ‘no’ on this. I do agree on a higher concentration of traffic in town and potentially going to other streets in town,” he said “ … I know we have issues of people going over 15 mph. I think more enforcement of the 15 mph is more appropriate than lowering the speed. That enforcement could happen right outside of Clark’s around the school area or just past the electronic sign on Main Street on the west end. I think it’s more about police presence and enforcement of the 15 mph than just going to this random speed of 7 mph.

Mayor DeLanie Young asked Watkinson to clarify his “the people have spoken” statement.

“I’ve been inundated — texts, phone calls, on the street. I haven’t heard of anyone, and again this is what I’ve been dealing with, but I haven’t heard of anyone wanting this to happen,” he said.

Unlike Watkinson, who called the new 7 mph speed limit “random” several times, other council members said they’ve received positive feedback about the proposal from their constituents.

“My experience has been opposite of that. Most people were either indifferent or in favor of the idea of maintaining or increasing safety on Main Street. I’m definitely still in favor of it. To me, the 7 mph may feel random, but I also appreciate that it’s a little bit quirky, and I feel like we’re losing those weird, quirky things about Telluride, so I like the 7 mph,” council member Adrienne Christy said.

Similarly, council member Geneva Shaunette said she’s heard from more people who are in favor of the new speed limit than not.

“I’ve heard mostly positive feedback about lowering the speed limit, especially from the Latino advisory committee that I sit on. One of their top concerns was traffic speeds,” she said. “I haven’t heard anyone firmly against it. I think we should see how it goes, and if it creates unanticipated consequences, we will adapt as we have with everything else we’ve done.”

Reducing the speed limit doesn’t necessarily mean everyone will go 7 mph, Mayor Pro Tem Todd Brown said, but it will most likely reduce traffic speeds overall.

“Nobody, I don’t think, believes everyone is going to be going 7 mph. The idea that that is the goal is firmly understood,” he said.

Telluride Chief Marshal Josh Comte, who was in favor of the reduction, explained that officers won’t necessarily be handing out citations if a person is driving within a reasonable speed.

“We’re not typically writing somebody a ticket on Main Street for going 16 or 17 mph. Same reason we wouldn’t write them one for going eight or nine miles an hour,” he said. “We’re hoping to get people down to that 10 mph range, especially with the amount of people we expect to be sitting out in parklets, as well as the pedestrians just walking the streets, who might not always be following the crosswalks, and bikes up and down Main Street, too. Anything we can do to help lower the amount of speed that cars are driving, I think, would be beneficial.”

Enforcement along Columbia and Pacific avenues will be a focus of the department, he added, like it was last summer.

“A lot of our violators when it comes to traffic laws are locals, whether they’re running stop signs, or speeding on the streets or Spur,” he explained. “It’s a lot of people who should know better who are getting frustrated with traffic and speeding up.”

Increasing public safety was one of council member Jessie Rae Arguelles’s top reasons for supporting the 7 mph limit.

“I had like several moms call me last summer in tears because their kids almost got run over by people going way too fast, so if this is a step in a direction to reduce speeds, help with crowd mitigation, then I’m all for it,” she said.

While he was absent Tuesday, council member Lars Carlson spoke against the ordinance in March, as he was the only member to vote against it then.

“I've tried to go seven miles an hour a couple of times this week, and I can't do it,” Carlson said during the March meeting. “My car physically can't do it. I'm going like 10 or 11, it's just impossible.”

Young had received an email from Carlson, who reiterated his stance, prior to Tuesday’s second reading and public hearing, she said.

“It was a request from councilperson Carlson to reconsider the passage of this ordinance to reduce the speed limit on Colorado Avenue from 15 mph to 7 mph, and more specifically, because he believes it will increase traffic concerns on Pacific and Columbia avenues as people will want to go faster and go to those other streets to do so.”

Telluride Fire Protection District Chief John Bennett also shared that sentiment, according to Young, who recently met with him.

“He also expressed concern with going down to 7 mph and the pushing of traffic to Columbia and Pacific,” she said. “My reply was with the projected visitor numbers this summer, people are going to be going to Pacific and Columbia regardless because they’re not going to want to sit in a constant line of stop-and-go traffic. … I think attention to those other two thoroughfares is just going to have to be a necessity, due to the sheer number of people we’re seeing, regardless of if it’s 15 or 7 mph on Colorado Avenue.”

In other town news, council members unanimously approved a new takeout alcoholic beverage resolution similar to last summer’s. The local public consumption orders were made possible by an executive order from Gov. Jared Polis at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was designed to assist restaurants whose indoor seating capacity was curtailed by public health orders issued in an effort to curb the pandemic’s spread.

Council members also directed staff to begin site planning, design and cost estimation processes, issue requests for qualifications, and prepare recommendations for three potential affordable housing projects — the Voodoo Lounge site, Tower House lots and Phase 2A of the Virginia Placer project.

The Telluride Housing Authority Subcommittee recommended the projects and will now discuss further details pertaining to each one.