Build it and they will walk? Think again.
It looks like the situation up Castle Creek has gotten sufficiently unpleasant as to be column-worthy. In case you don’t know, the city/county wants to put a paved path alongside the road so music students can walk or bike from their campus to the Marolt property without getting squished. Not squishing music students is a good idea, but in terms of impact, think about the swell bike path project that screwed up Cemetery Lane for months and months. Has anyone ever seen anyone using that skyway? The folks who live up Castle Creek way are a bit miffed; they feel there hasn’t been any discussion involving the people who live there. The fact is, if a project that would impact a neighborhood to the degree that this one will emanated from the private sector, the meetings would go on for years. But because this is a municipal project conceived for the benefit of the music school, the going was pretty smooth and, the neighbors believe, pretty silent. Endless meetings rarely result in everyone walking away happy, but at least everyone walks away feeling that there’s been a process, and that they’ve been heard.The idea for the path was germinated at the Aspen Music Festival and School and the powers that be in county and city government cheerfully signed on. You can’t blame the music school for wanting what they want; the path is probably a good idea, but who are our elected officials working for, the people of Aspen and Pitkin County or the music school? The music school has been sacrosanct as long as I’ve been around and I suspect always will be.Back in the ’70s, people opened their homes, and small lodges like the Endeavor (where I worked) bent over backward to provide housing for the students. There was definitely a quid pro quo. The kids played for tips on street corners, and the sound of them practicing in the dorm rooms at the Endeavor and emanating from homes in the West End was wonderful – it defined what summer in Aspen was. Now, of course, the small lodges are gone and no one actually lives in the West End. Things have changed. Now if you want to hire a string quartet of students to play for your garden party, you’ll be quoted a price from the music school that will have you dropping the phone and thinking there’s been a mistake, that you’ve been given a price for Springsteen and the E Street Band. The kids are raking in far more than any member of Aspen’s working class. The salaries for the higher ups at the music festival are in the neighborhood of what the president of the United States makes, yet somehow the festival and school manage to continue to enjoy nonprofit status – and the city and county continues to build stuff for them with taxpayer dollars.No one wants to denigrate the music school; it’s the last bit of real class in a town that’s gone “Rodeo Drive.” The students are really the only visitors we see in the course of the year who seem to have actual, functioning souls. The question is just how much do we owe them for what they bring to us? What’s fair?The plan for the path was for the contractor to break ground July 16. That is as close to the exact middle of the busy summer season as you can get. Construction is supposed to last 13 weeks. I don’t know if there’s any truth to the rumor that this schedule was conceived at a local Mensa meeting, but the chaos potential rivals the summer when the roundabout was being built and the Mensa people decided it would be a good idea to pave McLain Flats Road at the same time. For a few weeks that year, the quickest way to get from Aspen to Glenwood was through Leadville. I wonder what the alternate route up Castle Creek is? This project won’t just impact the people who live up that way, it will impact every tourist and local who wants to do anything up there.With a three-plus-month construction schedule, the music kids will be long gone by the time the path is finished. In all likelihood, it will then sit under several feet of snow for the winter, since one rarely sees students from the Country Day School hiking up and down that road. The folks who live up there don’t understand why the whole thing can’t be put off until spring, the slowest season we have left. They wonder if the current approach is really the best or only option, or was anything other than the obvious ever considered? This is what happens when a project with this kind of impact turns out to be a big surprise to the people it’s impacting most.The fact that there hasn’t yet been an accident on that stretch of road involving a pedestrian or cyclist and a vehicle is no reason to think that making things safer isn’t a good idea. It’s probably a very good idea – why wait for a tragedy? But why not see if there are options that might make the path benefit more people for more of the year than just the music kids for a couple months in the summer? Perhaps even something that could be less disruptive while it’s being built. What these options might be I don’t know, but if this project is jammed down people’s throats as is, no one will ever know.At the last meeting, the project was postponed for 10 days, but then it steamrolls ahead.
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