Friday, July 31, 2009

Been Stuck in an Internet Traffic Jam

So, it has been about a month since my last post. My internet access has been intermittent at best, since I have not been spending a lot of time in the office recently. I have a lot to talk about, this may be a long one, so try and keep up. I hope not to bore you.

Per the usual format, I will be talking about work stuff first, then getting into all the fun I have had over the past month. Since the fourth of July I have been doing a lot of out of office work revolving around vehicle counts, and other observations, but initially I will cover the things I have been doing in office.

I finally received electronic versions of the Ranger's case logs and started creating sample sets for the different types of violations written. These violations ranged from speeding, to DUIs and everything in between. Once I had created these groups, I determined the appropriate sample sizes so that I could represent the data plus/minus 5% of the actual results. Once the appropriate sample sizes were determined, I went through the individual reports to collect place of residence data. This would be used to determine where the people who were being issued citations lived. Were they locals? Tourists? Commuters? Commercial Vehicles? Currently I have populated my worksheets with data from 2009 and 2008. I will most likely complete 2007 either later today or early next week. This type of analysis should help determine how to more effectively manage the enforcement policies on the roads, and educate users specific user groups about the consequences.

In addition, I have been in touch with Jennifer Proctor, who works in the Park Facility Management Division. She is responsible for compiling motor vehicle accident reports for all the NPS units. We discussed what type of data she had available to her and what may be useful in my analysis. She was able to send me COLM motor vehicle accident data from 1989 - 2005. 2005 is the last year they have records for because they are in the process of switching to a new reporting database that has not been completed yet and have not entered the most recent years of data. This should still prove very useful for me in determining the most dangerous sections of Rimrock Drive and to determine the appropriate actions to make it safer. She also mentioned that her department is preparing a nationwide and regional safety studies, that when completed may be useful in comparing what is happening at COLM with other NPS units.

I have also been continuing my analysis of the NPS Public Use Statistics. Butch Street, who compiles the data for all the NPS units, was extremely helpful in giving me access to the raw data that he uses to calculate visitation. This assisted me in getting strictly vehicle counts for the East & West Gate, as well as the two roads entering from Glade Park. Since acquiring that data, I have been able to determine some high and low estimates of vehicle count growth rates over time, for both recreational and non-recreational vehicles.

Another woman who I have been in touch with is Elizabeth Stolz, who works for CDOT. She has recently completed a survey and analysis of how municipalities deal with Federal lands when conducting traffic analyses. Although I have not had a chance to go through these materials in depth yet, I believe they will be helpful to understand when I begin meeting with local traffic engineers to discuss what is being done in the surrounding communities to understand how the traffic patterns from COLM affect local arterials and vice versa.

Lastly, I have begun vehicle counts and observations to get a better idea of specific safety issues and more detailed understanding of daily/hourly traffic patterns, since the NPS data is only available on a monthly basis. I have started by doing hourly vehicle counts at the East Gate to determine daily traffic patterns. I also broke the vehicles down into two groups, those recreating in the park and those going to/from Glade Park. As you can imagine since the Glade Park vehicles are mostly commuters, the two groups have drastically different patterns. I have also started counting vehicle/cyclist/pedestrian interactions at one of the busier spots on Rimrock Drive. At this location there are trailheads on both sides of the road, a picnic area on one side, and a parking lot on either side. This leads to a tremendous amount of foot traffic across the road, as well as vehicles turning across traffic to enter and exit the parking lots. Below is an image of the area.

The safety issues at this location are significant given the lack of traffic control devices in place to keep everyone safe. In the coming weeks, I will be doing observations and counts at both roads that lead to Glade Park, as well as the East Tunnel, which is the longest at COLM, measuring over 500 feet. The tunnel should be particularly interesting given the low height and the propensity for larger vehicles to cross of the center line. Again, another safety issue that will need to be addressed in my final report. Although the days are long and hot, in the end the data will be extremely useful in my final analysis and recommendations.

Now on to the fun stuff!

Can you believe that during work they actually let me hike? Well believe it. It was another amazing hike, this time through Ute Canyon. I was accompanied by Eric Sandstrom, one of the interpreters at COLM. He has a great understanding of wildlife in the area and we got to see a number of different lizards, birds, and butterflies on the hike. Although the end of the hike, back out of the canyon, was dreadful. The elevation gain over such a short distance really tried me, I guess I wasn't as in shape as I thought. It was gorgeous though, and definitely worth the effort. A couple of the views can be seen below.

As I mentioned before, the days are hot here, even weirder is that it keeps getting warmer until about 6pm. Something I am just not used to. And if you don't believe me, check out the picture below.

And due to these hot and dry conditions, it is also fire season around here. Luckily the Monument has not had too many serious issues. The picture below is just one of the many fires that have erupted in the surrounding areas. This one was located just south of the Colorado river between Fruita and Loma, but there have been others in the Bookcliffs, and in Glade Park.

Even though, there is such intense heat, there is a rainy season and it seems to have started a bit earlier than normal. About a week back, we started having some really cool thunderstorms. They even cause a mild rock slide on Rimrock Drive and the section of road had to be closed for awhile until it was cleaned properly. Unfortunately I don't have a picture of the rock slide, but below is a photo I took during one of the storms.

When I was doing my observations in the East Gate, a lot of people kept saying they were going to the "potholes" in Glade Park. They said it was some sort creek and swimming hole with a couple cool cliffs to jump. My neighbor, Palma, and I decided to go up there one day and see what all the fuss was about. It was a really cool spot and the jump was a good twenty feet. It took me a couple minutes to get up the confidence to jump, but once I did there was no stopping. And in the picture, you can't see where you land, you follow the arrow another 10 feet down. Although, this time I wasn't doing any backflips. The pictures below are looking downstream.

It was also my birthday a couple weeks back, nothing too exciting though. I spent most of the day counting cars, but was able to go out a bit later with co-workers and friends to Pablo's. They have fantastic pizza, and cheap beer on Tuesday nights. Quite fitting that it landed on my birthday. All in all, a very quiet and low-key 28th birthday. Yikes, I can't believe I am 28! I guess the important part is I don't feel 28, right?

Until next time...

PS. For those of you that love to drive and text, or drive and talk on your cell, check this article/video out:


Monday, July 6, 2009

Resuming the Speed Limit

Since my last post things have started to slow down a bit, and my handle on the transportation project and life in a small town have grown. Although I have resumed the speed limit, there is still a ton of things that have happened over the past week and half.

One of the more exciting and nerve racking things to take place was the 2009 Bicycle Tour of Colorado. Over 500 cyclists were on Rimrock Drive on 6/23/09. This is more than a third of the average monthly total cyclists for COLM in only a days' time. From a transportation perspective, this was a fascinating event to watch take place. To see all the interactions between tourists, cyclists, commercial vehicles, and commuters all on the same road was eye-opening. The level of interaction between all of these groups of vehicles were extremely high and the chance of an incident seemed almost certain. However, due to dedicated staff at the Monument, no incidents occurred that day, although there were a few verbal and written complaints about ability to safely drive on the road due to the unusually high number of cyclists on the road. Below are a few pictures I was able to take of the event taking place.

The picture below illustrates one of the many safety issues when dealing with cyclists and vehicles sharing the road. This van is passing a group of cyclists entering an uphill switchback with little visibility of oncoming traffic.

This last photo is shot as a cyclist exits the longest tunnel on Rimrock Drive. Note how dark the tunnel is and the shadows of a couple cyclists still inside the tunnel. This is a major safety issue since drivers' visibility is so low when traversing through the tunnels. Several months ago, front and rear bike lights became mandatory for cyclists while in the tunnels helping to alleviate this issue somewhat.

In the office, I have been continuing to dedicate myself to reviewing current transportation documents in place, and those that are being worked on, throughout the National Park Service ("NPS").

Initially, I started pouring through the data on the NPS Public Use Statistics website. This gives a breakdown of many different classes of data. I was using their monthly statistics on total visitation, which is also bifurcated into recreational and non-recreational use. This data has been helpful in determining visitation growth rates and the proportion of recreational versus non-recreational users. I am also in the process of adjusting these visitation figures into vehicle counts to get a more accurate understanding of the number of vehicles on Rimrock Drive during the year.

To build on my understanding of the visitation data I was able to go on a ride-along with Joel. Joel is a park ranger and has been with COLM for over six years. He is responsible for collecting the traffic counter data at the East and West Gates to COLM, as well as the traffic counters at the two Glade Park entrances on Rimrock Drive. COLM also has pedestrian counters on many of its trails, which help to determine overall visitation to the Monument, not just vehicle visitation. Going through the data collection process with him was extremely helpful in understanding the locations of these traffic counters, the electronics' capabilities, and any issues that may arise from the location of placement.

I also had an opportunity to go on a ride-along with Clint, another park ranger at COLM. This ride-along was more focused on violations and law enforcement. I had opportunities to view routine traffic stops, general patrol, and the interface with local authorities. During the ride-along, Clint and I discussed the overall safety of the Monument and some very unusual stories. But after I was through, it got me thinking about analyzing the violations that have been issued in the past.

Based on these thoughts, I met with Phil Akers, Chief Ranger, to find out if they had records of past violations. Phil was nice enough to make these records available to me, and to also explain the procedures the rangers go through to document the violations on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. I believe this type of analysis will be helpful for me to review and sample so that I can have a better understanding of who is violating the law most frequently, out of those being issued citations. Are they typically commercial vehicles? Commuters? Cyclists? Are the violations most frequently related to speeding? entrance fee evasion? parking? All of this information should be extremely helpful in addressing some of the safety issues present on Rimrock Drive.

Lastly, at the East and West Gates of the Monument, cyclists counts are collected in addition to the number of bus tours, and commercial vehicles. This manually collected data will assist me in building off the vehicle counts collected from the traffic counters. Although, this data has only been collected for approximately a year and a half, it should still be helpful to sense trends and possible growth rates.

Simultaneously, I have been spending time reviewing documents and plans prepared for other jurisdictions and NPS units. Mesa County has put together a long range transportation plan ("LRTP") for the year 2035. This will assist me in understanding the traffic patterns on the feeder roads that lead to Rimrock Drive. In addition, there has been an effort to begin a LRTP for the Inter-Mountain Region of the NPS. I will hopefully be able to add value to this process through the information I am gathering and analyzing about the Monument. In addition, the resources that are being used to spearhead the LRTP can be of use to me, so I understand the larger realm of transportation issues facing the NPS. Lastly, there are several reports that I have begun to read through on specific NPS sites. The most recent of which is Saguaro National Park. Reviewing these materials assists me in developing a thorough work plan and gives me ideas to leverage in my analysis. Also, seeing the outcomes of such studies is helpful when identifying if certain actions were a success or not.

When I am actually through with work for the day/week, I have begun to explore the area and take a quick trip here and there. It has been unusually rainy here for the first couple weeks I have been here. Year to date, we have received between 4 and 5 inches of rain. It may not seem like a lot to you, but in an area that gets only 9 inches annually, and a usual "rainy" season around September and October, we are way ahead of schedule. Not that I am complaining, the rain has ensured somewhat cooler temperatures, which is nice. I am normally not one for extreme heat, but the dryness of the air makes it tolerable. Also, the increased rain gives way to beautiful rainbows. Like the view from my apartment?

I also got to do a fair share of hiking as well. One of the more secluded trails was No Thoroughfare Canyon. This trail starts inside the monument and ends just outside the Monument near Glade Park. It is approximately 7 miles one-way, but part of the trail is not designated and there is a bit of way-finding after the first waterfall. In total, the trail has two waterfalls that hikers can enjoy, although at the time I hiked it, there was no water flowing. It was unfortunate, but I am sure I will have another chance. I also got up close and personal with a yellow-headed collared lizard.

This second photo is at the base of the second falls. Eric, who I was climbing with, was working his way to the top of the second falls, one benefit to there not being a lot of water flowing at the time.

Last week, my neighbors and I had a little potluck BBQ. It was a chance to sit around, talk, enjoy some good food, and play with the pooches. There was also an impromptu music session, which, as a non-musically inclined individual, is always appreciated.

For the 4th of July I went down to Crested Butte to visit a couple of friends that live in the area. It was my first time there when there wasn't snow on the ground. I think I prefer the snow better, but it was gorgeous nonetheless.

While I was there, we got to enjoy the Crested Butte parade which was quite enjoyable, and afterward there is a HUGE water-fight downtown. A good number of people show up for this, and my friends and I kept a fair distance away, but figured launching water balloons from a couple blocks away was a good idea. We got ambushed a couple times, but all in all it was a good time. Their fireworks show was up on Mount Crested Butte this year, but we still got a good view from the town since we decided not to brave the traffic and drive up to the mountain. And last but not least, we did a little off-roading. It ended well, but could have been disastrous. We got this bright idea to try and drive through a rather sizable puddle. Little did we know, it was WAY to deep.

This is a view from the front seat with the door open, when the door closed it skimmed water into the truck. I couldn't believe we did not get stuck and waterlog the engine. There ended up being a couple of inches of water in the front seats, but luckily we were able to reverse out, since we definitely weren't going forward anymore.

And last but not least, I have had to do some work on my 4Runner. It being a '87 and all, some things were bound to happen. I had to replace the starter, which was a relatively easy job. Now that works fine, but there is some sort of fuel issue that I have not been able to troubleshoot. If you have some car knowledge, let me know.

Oh and for all you that know me well enough, I finally finished watching the Star Wars trilogy (the originals) for the first time. Return of the Jedi was my favorite I think. I have to let is sink in for a bit, but I am glad I can now say that, nearing my 28th birthday, I have finally seen all three movies in full.

Don't forget, just because you get to read all about me, it doesn't mean I don't want to know what's going on in your neck of the woods. Keep in touch.

I think that is it for now, until next time...