Analysis: Majority of drivers speed in Breckenridge |

Analysis: Majority of drivers speed in Breckenridge

A driver going 31 mph in a 25 mph zone passes a man walking his dog Saturday on French Gulch Road. A woman who lives in the area recently asked town council to reduce the speed limit to 20 mph, and over the course of an hour on Saturday, 36 of the 45 vehicles — 80 percent — usilizing that stretch of road were observed speeding.
Eli Pace / |

An imperfect analysis of vehicle speeds on two Breckenridge thoroughfares this week revealed that more than 80 percent of drivers were exceeding the posted speed limits.

The question about how fast people are going through residential neighborhoods came up at the most recent town council meeting, in which a concerned citizen whose dog was killed by a town bus Aug. 9 on French Gulch Road spoke up.

In response, the Summit Daily camped out for one hour each on South French Street and French Gulch Road this week, staying there from 5-6 p.m. Friday and from 10-11 a.m. Saturday, respectively, at locations where speed-limit signs come equipped with radar.

During those two, hour-long windows, more than four out of every five vehicles observed — including cars, pickup trucks, buses and even a moped — were clocked moving at rates above the posted limit.

Drivers with compelling reasons for slowing their speeds — such as having just turned onto the street, stopping to pick up pedestrians or flipping a U-turn — were included in the tally.

It should also be noted that most of the vehicles — about 51 percent — weren’t going excessively fast, either abiding by the speed limit or staying within 5 mph of it. Perhaps most concerning, however, is that 11 drivers — more than 13 percent — were seen exceeding the limit by 10 mph or more.

A plea for action

The concerned citizen who addressed council on Sept. 26 admitted she didn’t see the incident and doesn’t know how fast the bus driver was going when her dog was struck and killed.

“I want to preface this by saying I know it was an accident, the definition of an accident,” she said. “But she was my pet for like nine years so it was a tough thing.”

Still, the incident got her thinking, and she came to council with two questions. First, the woman wanted to know if protocol was followed, when the driver hit her dog and left the scene.

“What happens when something like that happens to someone’s pet,” she asked, saying she was on scene minutes after her dog was hit and no one beside a young girl who alerted her to the incident was on-site.

“My second point is I believe the speed limit on French Gulch at 25 is too fast,” she said, asking council to lower it to 20 mph. “We have dogs and kids in that Wellington neighborhood. Every alley, every street in there feeds onto French Gulch … we could be looking at something else besides what happened to my dog.”

Driving her car down French Gulch Road at 20 and again at 25 mph, the concerned citizen said the difference in time is minimal — only 1.5 minutes — but the added safety is dramatic.

“If you drive your car at 25 on that road, or any road, and then go down to 20, you can feel a real difference in the way your car feels and might be able to stop,” she said. “… I just don’t want to see another accident there.”

A formula for speed

Responding to the woman, town manager Rick Holman said that lowering the rate of speed on French Gulch Road is easier said than done because, contrary to what some people might think, setting speed limits is anything but an arbitrary process.

Holman didn’t dispute any facts presented by the woman, and he said the town is looking at changes in protocol moving forward before addressing the woman’s second question.

“Speed limits are not just set by what we think (they should be) as a neighborhood,” he explained.

Instead, there’s a traffic code the town must “abide by for what’s considered a reasonable and prudent” speed limit. Conditions, road surface and other factors all come into play.

“There is no way 20 mph would apply to that particular roadway,” he said flatly, citing various tests and speed surveys previously performed by the town. “The problem is not the people that are doing 25; (it’s) the people who are doing 40 or 35.”

Holman commented that French Gulch Road has been an area of targeted enforcement, “but as you know, (we) can’t be everywhere all the time,” but he gave the woman little hope the limit would come down.

“We could not, as a town, go out and lower that speed limit to 20 mph because we think it’s the right thing to do,” Holman explained. “If we wrote people tickets, they could be challenged, and it wouldn’t stand up in court because of the way the standards are developed for road speeds.”

On French Gulch Road

Interestingly, out of the nine vehicles that were below the speed limit on French Gulch Road on Saturday, four of those were town buses, and no buses were seen speeding throughout the hour-long sample.

Most of the other five drivers going under the limit had compelling reasons for slowing down, and six were speeding by 10 mph or over.

Additionally, there were 20 more drivers going 6-10 mph over the speed limit, and another 16 speeding less egregiously at 1-5 mph over. On average, the 45 drivers on French Gulch Road were clocked going 29.5 mph in the 25 mph zone, with 36 of them driving at speeds above the posted limit.

That particular stretch of road seems to invite speeding, coming downhill and into a straightaway. It’s marked by homes on the west, open space and opportunities for recreation on the east, making French Gulch Road popular among cyclist, joggers and dog-walkers.

The radar sits at the end of the straightaway, just before a 20 mph curve and warns of an upcoming stop sign.

South French Street’s ‘a raceway’

On South French Street, the posted speed limit is 20 mph, save a school zone, but based on the high number of drivers who exceeded it Friday night, someone could reasonably believe that Breckenridge police could hand out about as many tickets as they want to over that stretch of road on any given day.

The sign with a radar sits after a curve in the road, north of the ice rink, before drivers going north reach Breckenridge Elementary School and a highly trafficked downtown, which has the habit of pushing speeds down. Like French Gulch Road, however, the approach to downtown is largely downhill and also invites speeding.

A small percentage of drivers — six out of 38 observed — were seen speeding at rates 10 mph or greater than the posted speed limit, and another 13 were doing speeds 6 to 10 mph over the limit.

In addition to the six drivers going 10 mph or more over, 14 were clocked at 1 to 5 mph over, and only five vehicles were observed going at or below the limit. What’s more is four of those five motorists had compelling reasons for slowing their speeds.

Altogether, more than 86 percent of drivers observed during the hour-long window Friday exceeded the speed limit on South French Street, and the average rate of speed was 25.2 mph.

A couple who happened to stroll by noted they walk the route almost daily, but they don’t usually fear for their or their dog’s safety like the concerned citizen who spoke up at the last council meeting does.

“We know, it’s a little mini speedway,” the man said, adding that he doesn’t think it’s too big of a problem.

The woman with him explained she thinks the speed limit is fine as well. She also applauded “stepped up enforcement” she’s noticed the last couple years and complimented the placement of the speed-limit sign with the radar.

“We like that they made the speed-limit thing permanent,” she said. “It slows a couple people down.”

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