To drive or not to drive?
September 15, 2008
ASPEN ” The beginning of school this fall has brought a familiar Aspen sight ” gridlock at the roundabout on Highway 82.
Certainly, the highway’s paving contributed significantly to last week’s afternoon back-ups, which at one point Thursday afternoon stopped cars for 14 blocks. Still, most motorists approaching the roundabout last week couldn’t help but notice the long line of vehicles trying to merge from the direction of Aspen’s school campus on Maroon Creek Road.
Aspen Superintendent Diana Sirko has responded to traffic concerns in part by ensuring that district staff continue discouraging parents from driving. But she said the district also struggles with the fact that, for safety reasons, it can’t make it too inconvenient to drop off or pick up children.
“It’s possibly safer,” said Sirko of this year’s campus and traffic plan. “But I don’t know if it’s better. In many ways it accommodates more drop-offs.”
The district continues to work on vehicle-related issues on the campus, Sirko said. But she argued that the district needs the support of parents to cut down on traffic.
“We understand there are times you need to drop off your children,” she said, citing the example of a child with an unwieldy school project.
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But she asked that parents closely examine those times, noting that she’s aware of several parents who live very close to school and continue to drive their children on a daily basis.
A few years ago, she said, she tried a campaign against driving. It helped for a while, she thought, but soon parents reverted to old habits.
During the recent construction phase, parents were again very helpful about not driving, Sirko said. But this fall, she noted, on any given morning, there are more than 100 parents dropping their children off at school.
In changing the campus’s traffic plan, one of the focuses has been safety, Sirko said.
Requiring high school students to park in the lower lot, for example, mixes fewer pedestrians and student drivers, as some students walk in from the Five Trees subdivision. The district has also added a sidewalk on its property to make walking safer for students who travel from that area.
Others changes have been geared toward easing the parking situation. Students in their junior year, for example, are no longer allowed to park on campus. That change was implemented last year, said Sirko ” but it was enforced with placards that could easily be moved from car to car. This year, the district is instead using what it hopes will be a more successful sticker program.
Juniors now park at the Tiehack lot thanks to an agreement with the Aspen Skiing Co. In turn, Skico uses the school lot for overflow parking on weekends.
Parking enforcement so far this year has involved police officers issuing warning tickets. However, the officers have no jurisdiction in the school lot, so potential booting of cars that have been marked with a warning ” the district’s chosen method of enforcement this year ” will have to be done by the district, she explained.
Sirko expected that vehicles most likely to be booted would belong to students who are either juniors who have parked on campus or seniors in the upper lot ” or local skiers who try to park in the lot during the week.
Several of both the new and old district solutions are geared toward encouraging people not to drive to campus at all.
In 2005, the district instituted a “teacher” bus for those who live downvalley. It has gained popularity after several years, Sirko said, and now carries between 28 and 30 teachers per day to the campus. Driven by a teacher, the bus comes up from Carbondale and stops at several locations in between.
And at a recent school board meeting, Sirko argued that 90 percent of students in the district have school-bus service available to them. Many districts, she said, only provide transportation to students within a two-mile radius.
Only about 50 percent of Aspen students take advantage of that transportation, however.
Sirko offered several reasons for that percentage: older kids don’t like riding the bus; some children don’t like being picked up early by the bus; and parents who live downvalley and work in Aspen often find it easier to drop their children off.
Another reason is that students involved in after-school activities often can’t take a school bus.
The district has looked into activity buses, said Sirko, but she argued that with school activities so spread out, such a solution may not be practical.
Sirko said a district goal is start a conversation with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority.
“We need to forge more communication,” she said.
The district would like to be able to provide bus passes to students at reduced rates, she said.
Many students currently only have the option of being dropped off at the roundabout or the Aspen Recreation Center. If it could be done safely, she’d love to see a midpoint drop-off, she said.
The district’s ultimate focus involves safety improvements and the ease of its on-campus traffic flow ” along with trying to provide incentives for not driving, Sirko said.
The latter hasn’t been “too successful,” she readily acknowledged.