Aspen council scuttles idea of 14-mph speed limit
Ryan Summerlin February 5, 2013
ASPEN – The Aspen City Council on Monday backed off last week’s idea of a 14-mph speed limit in the West End neighborhood – and instead indicated favor for lowering the speed limit from 25 mph to 20 mph citywide.
Main Street, which is part of state Highway 82 and has a speed limit of 25 mph, would not be affected by the change. Some city officials suggested that the lower limit could be advertised with just two signs, one on each end of town, simply stating that Aspen’s speed limit is 20 mph everywhere “unless otherwise posted,” such as on Main Street.
Councilman Torre asked that the speed-limit issue be added to Monday’s work-session agenda after some problems with the 14-mph proposal for the West End came to light in the past week.
One was its legality: The federal government’s “Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices” says that displayed speed limits “must be in multiples of 5 mph.” Another factor was the estimated cost, about $25,000 to purchase and install signs for West End streets only.
Councilman Steve Skadron opened the discussion by saying he had a change of heart with regard to the West End-only proposition.
“I’m going to rescind my support for the speed-limit change in the West End,” he said. “For the last two years, we’ve done speed studies, and those studies reveal that the average speed in the West End is 17 mph. Knocking the speed limit to 18 or 14, I feel, is reacting to perception and emotion, not facts rooted in the research and sound science.
“Nobody wants traffic in their neighborhood. But the fact is, the traveling public has a right to get where they’re going.”
At the council’s Jan. 29 work session, council members asked city staff to explore the cost and feasibility of a 14-mph speed limit in Aspen’s West End as a way of discouraging motorists from cutting through the neighborhood to avoid congestion on Highway 82 near the S-curves. For years, some residents have been pushing the city for greater traffic-calming measures in the quiet neighborhood.
Bollards, thin posts fixed to the middle of the road, have been set up along West Smuggler and other streets, but residents say their presence hasn’t deterred motorists looking to avoid the Main Street bottleneck at the S-curves.
It was Mayor Mick Ireland who last week suggested an unusual number -18 mph – for the West End. Because the number is out of the ordinary, he said, it would attract a driver’s attention. After further discussion, council members lowered the potential limit to 14 mph.
The city garnered national publicity over the unusual 14-mph proposal, with stories appearing in Time magazine, the L.A. Times and other publications. The Associated Press carried the story to its member newspapers.
Skadron suggested that if the West End were to get the unique 14-mph limit, other Aspen neighborhoods would bombard the city with special requests, and the council would have little choice but to honor them.
Giving in to the large number of potential requests from specific neighborhoods likely would cost the city millions of dollars, said Scott Miller, the city’s assets director.
Miller on Monday came up with the idea of a 20-mph, one-year experiment for the West End. A majority of council members appeared to agree that it would be best to extend the lower limit to the entire city, not just one area. Ireland, a voting member of the council, did not attend the work session.
Councilman Adam Frisch said the city should continue its conversations with West End residents about traffic-calming measures that could make a difference, such as more bollards and speed bumps.
He pointed out that it might be strange for drivers entering the city to see the sign that says the limit on all streets is 20 mph, only to quickly encounter a 25-mph posting on Main Street.
As the discussion ended, council members directed City Attorney Jim True to draft a code amendment that would change the citywide limit to 20 mph. It would likely be introduced at the council’s Feb. 25 regular meeting, and the public will have an opportunity to comment during the measure’s second reading, possibly on March 11.