City officials apologized Tuesday for the traffic jam that took place on opening day of the USA Pro Challenge this year in Aspen while also fielding overwhelmingly positive feedback from the public on the race for a second year in a row.
In part because of a 30-minute television delay, Highway 82 experienced lengthy gridlock on Aug. 18, when roads were reopened during rush hour after the opening-day circuit race between Aspen and Snowmass. During Tuesday’s City Council work session, Mayor Steve Skadron estimated the S-curves, which accommodate about 700 cars per hour, experienced volumes between 5,000 and 7,000 cars.
“That message (about the television delay) apparently didn’t get out to (the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority) and the public well enough,” City Manager Steve Barwick said. “That made it all coincide right at rush hour. ... We’re learning our lessons.”
A possible solution the city is exploring for next year is a post-race community barbecue, or a similar event, so that masses of people aren’t attempting to leave Aspen all at once.
Despite traffic impacts, nearly 20 people spoke in support of this year’s race while also offering suggestions on how to handle it better in the future.
Belly Up and Matsuhisa owner Michael Goldberg made positive comments for the second year in row, saying he can’t understand how anyone can’t get behind the race with all the national and international exposure the race brings to Aspen and Snowmass.
“I don’t know how you can’t look at the positive impact,” he said.
During the first year of the race in 2010, Goldberg reported Matsuhisa sales down 20 percent. He has since altered the restaurant’s operating hours during the two-day race events in Aspen, offering lunchtime service. He said sales between 2011 and 2014 have doubled for the two-day period compared with the same time period on non-race years.
Warren Klug, general manager of the Aspen Square Condominium Hotel, said the traffic problems can be overcome and shouldn’t detract from the city’s desire to host the race. However, he suggested that the city allow more parking on Sunday, the day before the race.
Reiterating points he made last year, Aspen resident Jack Wilkie said he is uncomfortable with how much money the city contributes to the race. The city’s Special Events Department and its organizing team budgeted about $350,000 for the race this year. He called on city officials to “get out of the promotion business” and stick to city issues.
President of the Aspen Cycling Club Mike Maple agreed that as a taxpayer, he is concerned about the scale of the city’s contribution, though he noted he’s a huge supporter of the race. He suggested altering the circuit race next year, as it has been the same route for the past two years.
Resident Catalina Cruz called the race a phenomenal event and expressed confidence that the city will better handle the traffic issues next year. As a cyclist, she said she enjoyed a car-free Aspen for two days.
“It was so wonderful to be able to bike around town, to walk around town, without getting run over by people constantly running stop signs and constantly texting while they’re driving,” she said.