City, county officials disagree but bike ride is a go
May 25, 2017
Despite a difference of opinion between city and county elected officials over the safety of cyclists on Main Street, a European-style bike ride will go forward as planned in late June.
About 350 riders in the Mavic Haute Route Rockies 2017 will start in Avon on June 28 and make their way 102 miles up and over Independence Pass, through Aspen and into Snowmass Village.
The riders — most of whom will be from Europe — will leave Snowmass Village the next morning, make their way to Highway 133, head up and over McClure Pass and go to Crested Butte.
Pitkin County commissioners initially addressed the special event application for the "gran-fondo"-style ride May 10 and had significant concerns about riders coming through Aspen on Main Street a few days before the Fourth of July weekend and facing the inevitable rush-hour traffic back-up.
"There's going to have to be a compromise," Commissioner George Newman said at the time. "Main Street and the roundabout are unacceptable."
However, county planner Mike Kraemer came back to commissioners May 16 and told them city officials disagreed about Main Street safety. The city did not want to route riders on to any area bike trails because they didn't want regular trail users disturbed, he said. In addition, they did not want riders going through the West End because of added impacts to city staff and police, Kraemer said.
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"How do I say politely, 'Hogwash?'" Newman said.
"You say, 'Hogwash,'" Commissioner Patti Clapper said.
Newman said if the county can deal with the impacts of the riders going across more than 60 miles of Pitkin County roads, then the city should be able to absorb the impacts of riders being routed through 2 miles of city side streets or bike trails.
Clapper agreed, reiterating that traffic at that time — heading into one of the busiest weekends of the year — is "a quagmire on a good day" and will be dangerous for riders in bus lanes on Main Street, through the S-curves and around the roundabout west of town.
Commissioners Steve Child and Greg Poschman also said they were worried about rider safety on Main Street.
"Going down Main Street during that week in the summer, to me, is insane," Child said.
Both Parker Lathrop, Aspen fire marshal, and Aspen Police Sgt. Mike Tracy said at the commissioner meeting last week they believe Main Street is the safest and simplest option.
"Our view of safety of this event is different from your view of safety for this event," Tracy said.
In the end, commissioners acknowledged they had no jurisdiction to force a change in the city and approved the event with one condition: The Aspen City Council be informed of the board's safety concerns.
"I really want the City Council to discuss this and let them make a decision," Clapper said. "Why is everybody so afraid to do that?"
Nancy Lesley, the city's special-events coordinator, said Tuesday that City Council members were informed Friday of the county board's concerns and none requested a meeting about it. Therefore, the city is moving forward with the Main Street route, she said.
Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron said Tuesday he was willing to entertain the commissioners' concerns, though he would likely defer to city staff's recommendation.
"This is a case where I rely on the expertise of our talented staff and police officers and I respect their recommendation that in this case, it appears the simplest and safest route is the one they suggested," Skadron said.
Councilman Adam Frisch also said he would defer to police, fire and ambulance officials for the safety decision.
"With all due respect to the county, I did agree with (city officials') suggestion," Frisch said.
Newman said Wednesday he still feels the Main Street route is dangerous.
"I'm surprised the council haven't taken a closer look at the safety issues," he said.
Clapper said she was disappointed the council didn't change the route.
"But if it will move forward on Main Street, I just hope it's safe," she said.