Aspen electeds consider changes to downtown parking experiment |

Aspen electeds consider changes to downtown parking experiment

Aspen City Council agrees to modifications to Galena and Cooper avenues and the living lab aimed to improve pedestrian and bike safety

The new bike lane and parking zone on Galena St. as seen on Sunday, July 10, 2022, in downtown Aspen. (Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Aspen’s elected officials are rethinking the bike lane and parallel parking experiment occurring in the heart of downtown.

Aspen Mayor Torre received support from his colleagues Tuesday to consider modifications to the living lab along Galena and Cooper avenues that was installed in late June and is scheduled to remain in place through September.

“The idea of a living lab is that every day is an opportunity for you to experience it and make modifications if you think they are necessary or warranted,” Torre said during council’s regular meeting. “I do see some improvements that we can make.”

City officials have been getting a steady stream of complaints in recent weeks about the removal of 44 angle parking spaces in that three-block vicinity, as well as the dedicated bike lane and parallel parking configuration.

Torre said he wants to consider relocating the WE-cycle bike sharing station, as well as changing the designated loading zone on Hyman Avenue back to parking, whether that be for handicapped, 15-minute free increments or for bikes.

He said he also wants council to consider lowering the 20-mph speed limit in town, partly in response to the proliferation of e-bike usage and poor etiquette by cyclists.

“What we are seeing with bicycles is there is no longer pedal power, and we are seeing bicycles in our town have small motors on them,” Torre said, adding he wants the city to investigate the current law on the books that allows bicyclists to roll through stop signs and only yield to oncoming vehicles. “So, whether it’s the living lab that’s going on over there or the rolling stops that we are seeing and even the speed limit, we are seeing a different condition out there.”

The law allowing bikers to yield at stop signs became a state law in April, and City Attorney Jim True said he needs to research whether Aspen can opt out.

“I have not looked at the statute to see if it’s deemed a statewide issue and preempts our ability to act as a home rule charter community or not,” he said.

Councilwoman Rachel Richards said she also wants the future discussion to address what happens this winter when the living lab is over and what those streets are reverted to.

Councilman Skippy Mesirow said he would appreciate a refresher on the goals of the experiment and any data to back up that the safety measures put in place are proving effective, although observations are still occurring by city staff.

At the direction of council, the city’s engineering department made the changes in an attempt to improve pedestrian and bike safety in an area where a fatal pedestrian-vehicle accident occurred two years ago and near misses between bicyclists and cars are frequent.

But the bigger issue for Mesirow is enforcement while acknowledging that the Aspen Police Department is understaffed.

“Things like changing biker behavior and rules and speed limits are interesting to consider but I think only insofar as they are enforceable,” he said.

Torre said he would like to have the conversation about the living lab as soon as next week during one of two work sessions scheduled.

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