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2005 traffic at acceptable level

Janet Urquhart

Aspen traffic was a source of consternation for much of 2005, but the city’s vehicle counts indicate it stayed within what the city has deemed an acceptable level.

Or did it?

On paper, average traffic counts last year did not creep higher than 1993 levels ” the benchmark by which the town assesses how well it’s doing at managing traffic. By December, transportation officials were bracing for an annual average daily count in 2005 that would exceed the 1993 count for the first time. It didn’t.

Traffic counts in December were actually down nearly 11 percent compared with December 1993. The drop, however, may be attributable to factors other than an actual decline in the number of people commuting into town, noted John Kruger in a report to the City Council. Kruger is the city’s director of transportation.

The timing of the Christmas and New Year’s holidays ” both fell on weekends ” probably helped keep December numbers down, as did a couple of serious accidents on Highway 82 that forced the diversion of motorists onto alternate routes, where they bypassed the traffic counters. Motorists cutting around the entrance to town via Power Plant and McLain Flats roads also bypassed the counters, Kruger acknowledged.

Finally, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority saw an unprecedented 23.3 percent increase in ridership in December, which the agency attributed to higher gas prices, a high employment rate and snowy weather that enticed riders who might otherwise drive.

The average daily traffic count in 2005 was 23,420 vehicles per day ” lower than the 1993 average of 23,675, according to Kruger’s report.

Comparisons aside, though, most commuters would agree traffic last year was often horrible, Mayor Helen Klanderud conceded.

“Maybe people were equally unhappy in ’93,” she said.

Klanderud said she didn’t know if comparisons with 1993 averages are meaningful, given what Aspen is experiencing on the street.

What would be meaningful, she added, are hour-to-hour comparisons between current traffic levels and what was happening in 1993, but that information probably isn’t available.

“I think what may be less relevant are the average daily counts ” they don’t show the fluctuations in the course of the day,” she said.

Last year, traffic in and out of Aspen over the Castle Creek bridge exceeded 1993 levels in January, March, April and July.

The peak day of traffic flow in 2005 was July 5, when 32,367 vehicles went in and out of town from the west.

There were plenty of days last year, though, when traffic crawled in and out of town during peak commuting hours. RFTA passengers and motorists frequently endured lengthy waits in afternoon traffic jams and Klanderud has called traffic ” and what to do about it ” the biggest issue facing the city in 2006.

“I have serious concerns about this summer,” she said. “I’m dreading it.”

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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