When it comes to winter mobility, Town lacks the will, and money, to make improvements
Winter has arrived, officially heralded in by the opening of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area last week. With upcoming snow predictions bound to ice the deal as it were. thoughts turn, as they often do this time of year, to the safety of Mammoth’s streets and the ease of getting around town during snow-filled winter months.
On Wednesday, Mammoth’s Mobility Commission held a traffic management workshop. While lightly attended (only two members of the public showed), those who did represented areas in town known to have traffic issues, especially when the snow piles up.
Gary Small, a resident of Sierra Valley Sites (one of Mammoth’s most densely populated areas with narrow streets), came forward asking for ways to make the streets in his neighborhood a little safer. According to Small there are serious traffic/pedestrian issues throughout SVS that need to be addressed. Many residents in that neighborhood walk to public transit from their homes.
The issue is not new. The problem areas in Mammoth, including SVS, Forest Trail and Main Street, have been problem areas for years.
Small, however, was shot down by the Commission, which claimed the Town had done all it could for the Sites short of investing big dollars. Recently the Town has striped center lanes on the streets and installed caution signs, it has also upped enforcement in the area. The speed limit remains at 25 miles per hour (which Small contests should be studied further) and pedestrians in the area are forced to walk in the roadway as the snow piles up and gives them no other option.
“The real problem is in winter when you lose road width because of snow storage and high berms block views,” explained Town’s Public Works Director Ray Jarvis. However, he added, the Town’s hands are a bit tied when it comes to taking any additional safety measures on these roads.
“Other than doing an edge line [the white line on the sides of roads], everything else is a big deal,” explained Jarvis. “The area needs to be looked at through a traffic engineering lens.”
Which means a costly study to determine what physical changes could be done to the roadway. Some have suggested turning some roads in Sierra Valley Sites into one-ways, or blocking some of them off from Main Street to avoid cut-through traffic, but the effects of these changes on the remaining roads in Sierra Valley Sites would have to be studied.
“You could just be moving problems over one street,” Jarvis said, who admitted the following day that while he would love to do the study, it is not a high priority.
With the Town in dire financial traits, (think airport litigation settlement) there’s not a lot of money or staff time to spare for costly traffic engineering studies so grant money would need to be found. Small, however, felt the Town should just try some things such as blocking Manzanita from Main Street without doing a study first. He pointed to this past summer’s Main Street Marketplace where portion of South Frontage Road had been blocked off without requiring a study. The Commission felt, however, that since there was still access in and around the marketplace it was a different situation.
Jarvis told The Sheet that while a traffic study is not necessarily required, reshaping or redirecting roads “will affect the neighborhood and that needs to be looked at.”
Commissioner Eric Wasserman also questioned how important traffic issues were to others in Sierra Valley Sites besides Small.
A survey asking residents to comment on these issues did not receive much response. Plus, in the recently written Neighborhood District Plan for the area, residents asked that not much be changed when it came to their streets.
“The lack of survey results speaks volumes,” Wasserman commented.
Small explained later to The Sheet that he himself had conducted the survey, but didn’t have much time to commit to it, which was why the feedback rate was low. Small agreed that the consensus in the Neighborhood District Plan was that residents in Sierra Valley Sites did not want the roads widened or sidewalks built.
“Those things would encroach on people’s properties, so in the Plan it was written that these are shared streets and we have to work off of that,” Small said. “Talk to anyone who lives here and they’ll say it’s a nightmare.”
Still, the Commission was not moved to take any action.
“We can do the edge line next summer and look for traffic study grant money,” said Commission Chair Sandy Hogan.
“So basically we’ll wait to do something when something bad happens,” Small asked a Commission that gave no further answer.
“It’s nice to think that you can fix everything,” Jarvis concluded with The Sheet. “The things we’ve done have helped but there is no perfect arrangement.”
Juliana Wright, a resident on Forest Trail, which is considered another mobility problem area in town, brought forward a petition from her neighborhood requesting that another traffic calming study be conducted. Forest Trail is often used as a cut-through for those drivers looking to avoid Main Street. However, fast speeds combine with icy winter conditions make for trouble. The Town did do a traffic calming study in recent years and the speed limit was reduced, but according to Wright, “a little more needs to be done.”
“The new snow sign at the bottom of the hill is great,” Wright said. “It might be nice to have one at the top of the hill as well.”
Mammoth has recently received grant money from the Safe Routes to School program and will be installing sidewalks on Meridian Boulevard (from Old Mammoth Road to Joaquin), Tavern Road and Sierra Nevada Road in the next two to three years.
“In the big picture, cost is the biggest issue that prohibits solving some of the problems we have,” Jarvis said. “Others are completed infrastructure and maintenance. With these grant projects were are working on adding infrastructure.”