Aspen’s director of transportation taking his last laps around the track |

Aspen’s director of transportation taking his last laps around the track

John Krueger’s tenure with the municipal government has yielded dozens of transit programs, services and improvements

John Krueger stands outside of the Rubey Park Transit Center in Aspen on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. After two decades as the Director of Transportation in Aspen, he’ll be retiring at the end of the month. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

After two decades of carrying the title of Aspen’s director of transportation, John Krueger’s work here is done.

The 70-year-old retires at the end of the month and recently reflected on the dozens of projects, programs, initiatives, partnerships and services that he has spearheaded to develop and round out the city’s transit system.

Having worked for the now defunct Rocky Mountain Airlines first as a ramp agent throwing bags in Aspen while doing the ski bum thing in the 1970s, to director of stations for 12 cities, Krueger found himself at a career crossroads when Continental bought the local airline and closed the Denver hub.

“They said you can move to Newark or you can go to Houston and I was like, ‘that’s it?’” Krueger said. “So that was the end of my 18 years with airlines.”

He came back to Aspen, worked for Prince Badar bin Sultan, and eventually landed with the city in 1995 in the parks department.

For a few years he plowed snow and maintained trails, and soon after he was on the path to creating the built environment to accommodate all modes of transit into and within the city.

Those early years produced the Tiehack, Herron Park and Aspen Recreation Center pedestrian bridges and the trail along Highway 82 from the roundabout to the Aspen Business Center.

Krueger got his first dose of public berating as a bureaucrat when the four-way traffic signal at Castle Creek and Maroon Creek roads were planned to be replaced with a roundabout.

“Nobody ever heard or talked about roundabouts,” he said. “We used to go these public meetings about the roundabout and people were just crazy saying roundabouts are evil and just very passionate about it.

“The roundabout was eye-opening, like what did I get myself into?”

Going in circles and down the line

As a young manager of the transportation department, which had just local bus service and a couple of programs, Krueger became the city liaison for Pitkin County’s roundabout project, and a representative for the eventual regional partnership with the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority.

He jumped in fully as a bureaucrat when the Entrance to Aspen issue came to a head and the famous CDOT Record of Decision and its preferred alternative route into town were issued in 1997.

“Everything just started spooling up … the efforts, the attention, the problems, the complexity,” Krueger recalled. “We had all these meetings, we had air-quality issues, congestion issues and we had all of these things we needed to do, so that’s when the community started mobilizing and there was a lot of momentum and it was really exciting.”

While the political will and community divisiveness on CDOT’s preferred alternative have not produced the cut-and-cover tunnel over the Marolt Open Space to Seventh Street, Krueger, city staff and partners have carried out most of the other improvements outside of the last quarter-mile into town as part of the Record of Decision.

Dozens of projects, transit services and programs have been implemented in order to keep traffic levels the same as they were in 1993, which follows the Record of Decision.

“We did everything else we could think of to keep traffic at the ’93 level,” Krueger said. “If you go to any community and they kept it at that level for 20-some years, that doesn’t happen anywhere.”

That has been possible by continuous transportation demand management measures, designed to promote ridesharing and mass transit and less commuting by car, especially single-occupant vehicles.

Examples include the institution of paid parking, dedicated bus lanes on Highway 82 from Buttermilk to the roundabout, replacing the Maroon Creek Bridge, the addition of several bus stops on RFTA routes and improvements to the Eighth Street and Hallam transit stop and Castle Creek Bridge, to name a few.

Krueger was part of the team who set up and manages the Car to Go car-share program, the We-Cycle bike share program, the free Downtowner micro transit service, the carpooling program and the Maroon Bells reservation system with RFTA.

“I can’t believe we got as much done as we did, and we should have a lot more,” he said.

As the Entrance to Aspen conversation resurfaces with the city taking the lead, Krueger said it’s a massive undertaking that has been the Achilles’ heel for government officials for decades.

“If I was five or 10 years younger, I’d say let’s go get it,” he joked. “I don’t want to fight that but at least they can talk about it and see if anybody wants to do something; if you don’t, you get what you get.”

A regional effort

At the beginning of Krueger’s transportation career, RFTA did not have a dedicated funding source.

“It became an RTA, a regional transit authority, which was brand new legislation that gave RFTA the ability to tax,” Krueger said. “That’s when there was all the service expansion and the (bus rapid transit system) was put in place.”

City Manager Sara Ott said without Krueger in the driver’s seat, Aspen’s regional partnerships in the valley and with the state would not be what they are today.

“I appreciate John so much. He has been a rock star for this community,” Ott said. “He worked tirelessly behind the scenes…

“Our infrastructure and culture wouldn’t be the same without John’s leadership,” she added. “He has been instrumental in turning Aspen’s transportation conversations and programs into a reality with positive impacts far beyond Aspen’s city line. We are part of a regional system that thinks about solutions for the Roaring Fork Valley and through the I-70 corridor to Rifle.”

Under Krueger’s leadership, the city has received almost $15 million in grants that have paid for a plethora of transit programs.

He said of all the work he’s accomplished, the most memorable and impactful for the community is the remodeling of Rubey Park and adding electric buses to the fleet.

“No one remembers now how bad the old Rubey Park was, but we have a great facility now that people use every day, and we have millions of people moving through there every year,” he said. “Also, when we first got electric buses, getting them funded was hard.

“There wasn’t a lot of interest and understanding about them and now they’re half our fleet. It’s huge for the community in terms of noise, emissions, the environment and climate.”

Krueger said he considered retiring a year or two ago but with Ott replacing former City Manager Steve Barwick, he decided to stay.

“Sara changed the culture for the better and probably extended my career for a couple of years,” Krueger said. “Now I am just going to chill out and do more of what I moved here for … mountain biking, get outside, play a little golf, try to get better at golf.”

While Krueger goes out to play, Ott is working on a plan to combine the transportation and parking departments.

“It is appropriate to look at combining the transportation and parking departments in Aspen,” she said. “The services are closely intertwined. For example, bus routes affect parking availability. I’m looking forward to work with staff to make this transition.”