Aspen officials propose ‘mobility lab’ to alleviate traffic issues

Traffic at the S-curves on Highway 82 in Aspen of cars headed down valley at rush hour on Tuesday.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

Instead of building a new Entrance to Aspen, members of the Aspen City Council want to take a different, experimental tack to try to get people out of their cars.

“We’re drowning in automobiles,” Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron said Tuesday at a council work session. “We’re looking for options other than building four lanes across the Marolt Open Space.”

To that end, Skadron, the council and city staff members want to implement a “mobility lab” in May and June 2018, and it would offer a multitude of transportation options for the area between the Intercept Lot and the downtown core and within the boundaries of the city, said Ashley Perl, the city’s climate-action manager.

“We want to provide options, and people can make the choice to be part of the solution,” Perl said. “We need to start rethinking the problem of traffic.”

The main idea is to offer options that will realistically compete with people’s private cars, she said. That means expanding the city’s existing modes of transportation as well as utilizing technology to offer new modes of transportation, Perl said.

That could mean providing a fleet of electric bikes and buses with space for people to bring gear and dogs aboard, she said. It also could mean offering a fleet of ride-share mopeds, a network of on-demand electric vehicle shuttles or self-driving vans, according to a statement announcing the mobility lab.

It might also mean reconfiguring downtown streets for a better traffic flow and eliminating parking to make streets more people-oriented, according to city officials.

In order to make the mobility lab happen, the city must find people, companies and organizations to fund it, she said. That will likely include reaching out to technology companies like Tesla and Google, “Who might be interested in bringing a fleet of electric cars or autonomous vehicles to Aspen,” the statement says. Another option is Bloomberg Philanthropies, which has pledged to help cities figure out what is possible with transportation, officials said.

The lab likely will cost about $1 million, which the city cannot afford, Perl said.

The idea also is to engage the community and local businesses to find a solution to the traffic congestion options that plague Aspen.

At a recent meeting of the Elected Officials Transportation Committee, Skadron said there is no support on the Aspen City Council for building four lanes across the Marolt Open Space to try to alleviate the traffic backups at the S-curves.

Skadron reiterated that stance Tuesday, saying that nothing he’s ever seen about a four-lane road across Marolt indicates it would ensure free-flowing traffic in and out of the city.

“It will just attract more cars,” he said. “I continue to stand up for the S-curves.”

The mobility lab plan will, in essence, force residents, commuters and visitors to make a choice, Skadron said.

“We’re asking, ‘Who are you?’” he said. “Are you part of the solution or are you part of the problem?”

Skadron said the idea for the mobility lab came about a year ago during a conversation with a representative of the Rocky Mountain Institute.

“I said I want to bring to the people of Aspen what the future of transportation looks like,” he said.

The council — minus Councilman Adam Frisch, who was out of town — supported the mobility lab idea.

Councilman Bert Myrin said he’d like to see the main focus of the study concentrate on the area between the Intercept Lot and Aspen. He said he supported using city funds for the project and felt that the $60,000 the city paid for new grass at Wagner Park after the recent Food & Wine Classic would have been better spent on the mobility lab.

Perl said city staff will need as much as $125,000 to fund phase one of implementing the mobility study.

Councilor Ward Hauenstein suggested enlisting psychologists instead of transportation consultants to figure out how to get people out of their cars.

“I’m really excited about this,” Hauenstein said. “For me, the ultimate goal is to get cars out of downtown Aspen.”