Carbondale’s in-town bus routes unresolved
Aspen, CO Colorado
CARBONDALE ” Roaring Fork Transportation Authority representatives got a lot of input but not so much clear direction Tuesday from the Carbondale Board of Trustees regarding bus route changes in town.
Matters under discussion were whether bus routes should extend south down Highway 133 to Snowmass Drive or Meadowood Drive to serve concentrated residential areas, whether a shuttle or circulator route should be initiated to reduce or eliminate heavy bus traffic downtown and whether RFTA buses should resume service at the stop at the Carbondale municipal pool on Main Street.
Mayor Michael Hassig observed that there are three distinct groups of people who ride buses into and out of Carbondale: Park-and-ride users who drive from the edge of town or outside of town to catch a bus, local people who ride from the core of town, and people who ride into town to work, shop or patronize restaurants. These groups don’t have the same needs, Hassig said.
“Our charge would be to try to provide the best service for the most people in Carbondale,” Hassig said.
But the trustees had differing ideas on exactly what should be done to achieve that.
Trustee John Foulkrod emphasized the negative impact of bus service on residents and businesses along the bus route, pointing out that in a 12-hour period, 72 large buses travel through the downtown.
“It seems to me that to inundate Carbondale with six buses an hour is crazy,” Foulkrod said. He suggested a shuttle bus route through town using smaller vehicles that could frequently connect riders with RFTA buses at the park-and-ride lot would be cheaper to operate, environmentally superior and generally less obnoxious.
Trustee John Hoffmann, who is also a member of RFTA’s board of directors, said he understands there’s some resistance to continuing bus service downtown. He said people he knows have sold their houses on Colorado and Sixth Street and moved out to get away from the bus commotion. But he said he supports keeping the pool stop to provide needed service.
Kent Blackmer, RFTA’s co-director of operations, said that, depending on traffic conditions and stoplights, it can take a bus between eight and 15 minutes to travel from Highway 82 through downtown and back to Highway 82.
Rounding off those figures to a 10-minute round trip, Foulkrod continued to advocate for a shuttle system, saying, “I think you’d save a lot of time. On 72 buses, you’d save 720 minutes. That’s a lot of fuel.”
Blackmer pointed out, however, that a shuttle bus wouldn’t have the capacity to handle the ridership Carbondale churns out. During the winter season, RFTA may fill three buses in one half-hour alone, at the stop on Main Street across from the Subway sandwich shop.
“The ridership out of Carbondale is stunning,” Blackmer said.
“I have a hard time giving up downtown service,” said Trustee Stacey Bernot. She offered the opinion that if a shuttle service was instituted, Carbondale would have to pay for it but can’t afford to do so.
“We don’t have that, in any way, shape or form,” Bernot said.
In an interview Wednesday, Blackmer said precedents exist for circulator routes: Both Glenwood Springs and Aspen have them, and, while the towns pay for the service, RFTA contracts to provide it. But he acknowledged each situation is different, and how it would work with Carbondale is a decision that would be made by the board of directors.
Trustee Ed Cortez said he has received a lot of telephone calls from constituents who oppose eliminating the downtown route.
Police Chief Gene Schilling added that if the downtown route were eliminated, the park-and-ride lot, which has been nearly full already, would be overtaxed.
“I think we’re going to start having issues with parking,” Schilling said.
The discussion from last week’s RFTA board of directors meeting in Carbondale spilled over into the trustees’ work session, too. The bulb-outs built as part of the town’s streetscape project on Main Street have prevented RFTA’s full-sized buses from returning to their regular stop at the pool, and trustees have received an earful from constituents on that issue.
Blackmer told the trustees that, though the large buses might be able to squeeze through the bulb-outs under the best conditions, snow and tight schedules wouldn’t allow RFTA to consider returning to the route as it’s currently built.
“I cannot in good conscience send our drivers through there,” he said.
“Where were you when we planned those street improvements?” asked Bernot.
Cortez said the town and RFTA have to move forward, rather than dwelling on the miscommunication that led to the problem.
Town Manager Tom Baker suggested the town needs to get rider surveys to begin an organized analysis of what service is most needed. He also said the town should get estimates on modifying the bulb-outs at Main and Sixth, and Colorado and Sixth that at this time prevent buses from resuming their usual route to the pool stop.
On Wednesday, Blackmer lamented that the trustees hadn’t boiled down the needs of the town a bit better.
“It didn’t strike me that we got any unified direction from that meeting,” he said. He said he agreed with Baker’s call for a ridership survey, but he said it would be premature to tear up the new bulb-outs before deciding what bus routes the town
really wants and needs.
Note: RFTA buses currently serving downtown will be detouring to avoid the power line burial project on Main Street Tuesday and Wednesday Nov. 25 and 26, and Dec. 2 and 3. They will turn from Highway 133 onto Colorado Avenue as usual, but continue east to Fourth Street, where they will turn around and head straight back to Highway 133 on Colorado. Stops will be eastbound at Colorado and Eighth and westbound at the self-storage building near 12th Street.
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