Aspen council members weary of entrance discussion
June 26, 2012
ASPEN – Though a year ago they listed it as one of their top 10 goals for 2011-12, some Aspen City Council members expressed disdain Tuesday for the decades-old topic of the “Entrance to Aspen.”
During a work session, Councilman Steve Skadron suggested that time spent trying to come up with solutions to S-curve traffic snarls that only hold up motorists for a few minutes on certain days of certain times of the year was folly.
“Do you think this is necessary?” Skadron asked Adam Frisch, the newest member of the council, who was elected in May 2011. “And can I ask a question? Why are we here? Did council direct this?”
John Krueger, who heads the city’s Transportation Department, reminded Skadron and other council members that they made the issue a top goal during a retreat last summer.
“We’re trying to meet your goal and your direction,” he said.
“I want to say this for the record: As I’ve said before, I’ve come to the conclusion that the entrance we have now is the appropriate one,” Skadron said. “It’s traffic-calming. It’s the appropriate aesthetic. It creates small-town character.”
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Skadron pointed out that the issue has been on the city’s radar for more than 30 years. He said all of the alternatives being explored won’t result in uninterrupted, free-flowing traffic between Aspen and westward destinations. The best they will do, he said, is improve travel times by less than two minutes.
“We’re talking about spending more time, and tens of millions of dollars, for an improvement of a couple of minutes of travel time,” he said. “I think that’s absurd. I think we should settle on the fact that what we have is the best alternative, … declare victory and move on.”
Skadron said that while he understands the frustrations of some drivers who regularly experience the bottleneck between the S-curves and Cemetery Lane, the existing Highway 82 configuration for leaving and entering town best satisfies Aspen’s core values.
Frisch said that while not everyone agrees that there’s a traffic problem in Aspen, the issue is very real to motorists who are forced to keep their vehicles still for several minutes on Main Street or in the Cemetery Lane area during the city’s peak seasons.
“It’s hard enough to solve a problem when not everybody agrees with what the problem is,” he said. “I think one of the big problems is that it takes a really long time to get in and out, and we’re burning I don’t know how many plastic bags per day, with a very anti-green policy of making all these cars back up.”
Frisch said a study to determine estimated travel times between the Hotel Jerome and the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport – during peak seasons under the current configuration and also with various alternatives – would help the public and policymakers arrive at a balanced decision. Others in the room reminded him that travel-time studies have been done, but they don’t factor in the airport.
“My disagreement with Steve is that I think that if you’re out there, in that traffic, it’s not small-town character, it’s not environmentally friendly, and it’s not very friendly to our guests,” Frisch said.
Mayor Mick Ireland said that instead of studying new ways for vehicles to enter and exit Aspen, the city should be exploring methods of getting cars off the streets and emphasizing bicycle usage.
“In conclusion, I’m going to ask council when we have our retreat this year that we put some of this aside and put some energy into making this town more bike-friendly with bike lanes and some other facilities,” Ireland said. “Because I think we can make progress there. I don’t think you’re going to make progress here.”
The various alternatives to the S-curves that Krueger and the city’s private transportation consultants expected to discuss didn’t get a lot of air time. They carry names like “split shot,” “preferred alternative,” “reversible lane” and “fixed three-lane.”
Residents of the community are familiar with many of the options because they’ve surfaced in one form or another over the past few decades. Officials, consultants and planners held an open house in the basement of Aspen City Hall on Tuesday to go over some of the details of various plans.
Krueger told council members of an upcoming field study and “signal optimization” experiment that aims to determine whether traffic flow at the intersection of Cemetery Lane and Highway 82 can be improved.
A survey conducted in March 2011 indicated that 60 percent of Aspen and Pitkin County voters strongly support some type of change to the Entrance to Aspen, while a mere 10 percent strongly oppose taking action on the matter.
In the same survey, 60 percent of respondents indicated support for the “four-lane” option without dedicated bus lanes, which would eliminate the S-curve and tread across a portion of the Marolt-Thomas Open Space. Basically, it would be a straight shot into and out of Aspen.