Are the New Apartments the Cause of More Traffic at Lookout & Idylwild?

About 550 new apartments were added to Gunbarrel in the last couple of years, split between Gunbarrel Center, Boulder View, and Apex 5510. The three developments are just north or just east of Lookout and Spine.

Based on reading posts at nextdoor.com and listening to my friends and neighbors, it’s widely believed that there’s more traffic at the intersection of Lookout and Idylwild, and that these apartments are the cause. Are either of those opinions true?

As for more traffic, I don’t think anyone knows. People who dislike the apartments, which includes everyone I know, tend to look for evidence to support their view, so it’s pretty unlikely that they’d say that there’s no increase, and they would certainly not say there’s a decrease. (Probably some of these people would also blame the apartments for an increase in homeless people in Gunbarrel, not realizing that an apartment dweller can’t simultaneously be homeless.)

So, I can’t say much about whether traffic has increased at Lookout and Idylwild, although I also can’t think of any reason for it to decrease, and, since there are more people in the world every day, there must be a slight increase, even if it’s not noticeable. (The apartments surely contribute to increased traffic at Lookout and Spine and Lookout and 63rd, but I’m only talking about Lookout and Idylwild.)

So, for the purposes of this article, let’s just say there is more traffic, even though no one knows by how much. The second question is: Are the new apartments the cause?

It’s widely believed that they are. Here are a few snippets from a thread on nextdoor.com titled, in part, “Traffic light at Idylwild and Lookout:”

Since only 1/3 of the new residents have arrived, I think the traffic on Lookout will continue to get worse.

it’s only going to get worse when 900 more people move in.

And this from an article on gunbarrelgazette.com:

As development increases along Lookout Road in Gunbarrel (Gunbarrel Center, Boulder View Apartments, etc.), there is some concern that traffic flow won’t allow arterial street traffic to enter Lookout in a timely manner during peak traffic hours.

OK, so let’s figure out how the apartments contribute to increased traffic at that intersection. As everyone knows who enters the intersection from Idylwild, traffic is heavy westbound in the morning rush hour, and heavy eastbound in the evening. By contrast, eastbound traffic is extremely light in the morning, and westbound is extremely light in the evening.

Let’s just consider the morning. If any of this traffic is due to the apartments, there are a few explanations:

  • Apartment residents who work the night shift east of Gunbarrel and are taking Lookout to get home in the morning.
  • Apartment residents who drive the Diagonal to Longmont, but forgot their lunch and are circling back to get it.
  • Commuters who live east of Gunbarrel but work in the apartments as non-resident managers, nannies, house cleaners, plumbers, electricians, interior decorators, massage therapists, and so on.

What the traffic is not is apartment dwellers who are going to work. If that were true and they were using Lookout (which doesn’t really go to any place where people work), they would be going eastbound, not westbound.

Well, none of my three ideas make much sense, and I can’t come up with any other plausible reasons why these apartment dwellers are going westbound in the morning. You can work out the evening case for yourself.

I conclude that the apartments aren’t the cause of increased traffic at Lookout and Idylwild.

What is the cause? I don’t really know, but I’d guess it’s people who live in Heatherwood or even Erie who are going to work. You’d think that someone who really cared about the increased traffic at Lookout and Idylwild (if there is an increase) would want more apartments in Gunbarrel, not fewer. Fewer westbound commuters, not more. In fact, the higher the density in Gunbarrel and Boulder generally, the less traffic east of Gunbarrel. To imagine an extreme, suppose everyone now living in Heatherwood moved to a giant highrise somewhere around Lookout and 63rd, and Heatherwood were turned into open space. That would drop traffic at Lookout and Idylwild by at least half.

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