Moving Home

An unbroken line of cars moves along Highway 180 near the Museum of Northern Arizona Saturday evening. Despite heavy traffic this holiday weekend, Flagstaff did not see the logjam that has been present on Highway 180 during past holiday weekends. (Jake Bacon/Arizona Daily Sun)

Have you ever felt strongly about a local issue, but also reluctant to skip dinner, miss work, or possibly stay up until midnight to speak at a public meeting?

In Flagstaff, there's a website for that.

Urban planners are hoping online crowds can help them find the most viable solutions to resolve winter traffic jams that plague Highway 180, when skiers and sledders converge.

"We struggled with getting people to attend town hall meetings for a number of years," said Nathan Preheim, an urban planner and one of the developers behind MindMixer, a sort of online forum.

This is better, he thinks.

"We're just trying to use technology to break down barriers," he said.

Users on the site must give their names, and can vote ideas up or down, helping popular ones generate a critical mass.

The website also works in other languages.

Planners will later test out which suggestions could be viable, then plan to seek out funding and hold in-person public meetings this fall.

Some of the easier-to-implement ideas could ease traffic on the highway this winter.

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Plausible options could involve making a temporary center lane of travel, electronic billboards on Interstate 17 that note approximate traffic times on Highway 180, or shuttles, said Dave Wessel, of the Flagstaff Metropolitan Planning Organization, the city's traffic-planning agency.

One rough idea would involve signs that give sledders an idea of how long it would take them to reach town at 2 p.m., for example, when traffic is lighter, versus at 4 p.m., when traffic is heavy.

"We can reach people in Phoenix with this site, where a lot of our visitors wouldn't be able to weigh in with a public meeting," Wessel said.

Government-involved committees have met and discussed traffic on 180 for more than a decade now, only to have various participants state that their agencies don't have the time, staff, or money to address the volume of traffic and people.

Population growth in Phoenix is a big part of the story, keeping locals in Fort Valley home-bound and sometimes blocking in emergency response vehicles.

Maricopa County grew nearly 25 percent from 2000 to 2010, according to the U.S. Census.

Altogether, one estimate from the U.S. Forest Service counted 411,762 people coming here in winter 2009-10 to play in the snow -- and another survey guessed that another 313,184 could be added to that number.

Cyndy Cole can be reached at 913-8607 or at ccole@azdailysun.com.


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