City looks to public for traffic solutions | AspenTimes.com

City looks to public for traffic solutions

Janet Urquhart

For roughly the same hour and 45 minutes it took a bus rider to get from Aspen to Snowmass last night, the Aspen City Council debated how to engage the public in a discussion about the community’s transportation woes.Make that traffic woes. Or congestion woes.Council members parsed the verbiage of a broad outline for a public discussion they hope to initiate next year and butted heads over what should or not should be on the table for debate. They also battled over who should take part in the process.In short, the council’s conversation was nearly as divisive as the community debate over the issue has been for three decades.City staffers have been working on the framework for a broad community discussion about transportation, or traffic, since the council gave the idea its blessing during a retreat last summer. It is expected to involve the Aspen Institute’s Community Forum and an outside facilitator to guide a discussion that will be open anyone with an interest in how traffic moves in and out of Aspen.

Councilman Jack Johnson questioned the involvement of commuters from outside Aspen, suggesting they would stack the deck in the debate.”Nobody asked me to chime in on Willits or Glenwood Meadows. Nobody asked me to chime in on Base Village, and I don’t think other Aspen residents were asked, either,” he said, referring to development decisions beyond Aspen’s borders.The community has already come to consensus on transportation, albeit a “slim and rather fragile” one, Johnson added.But other council members advocated going forward.Mayor Helen Klanderud expressed hope that the process produces solutions that the community can live with today and in the future.

“Nobody trusts the city of Aspen to solve the problem,” she said.Traffic congestion has been perceived as worse than ever this year, and people are reaching the boiling point, said Councilwoman Rachel Richards.”We are either going to, as a community, reach for the best … or we’re going to live with a default worst-case scenario,” she said. Richards favored bringing the broader community into the discussion, noting that 60 percent of the city’s work force resides outside the city limits, but she also suggesting establishing some “non-negotiables” early on.”Over my dead body” was her reaction to the potential for a four-lane, unrestricted highway into Aspen and a 1,000-vehicle parking garage.

The process won’t work if the public feels certain options have been eliminated from consideration from the get-go, Klanderud countered, urging a process that’s open to all suggestions.”In the end, let’s say a four-lane is what everyone agrees on, which requires more underground parking spaces. Then we have to grapple with that,” she said. If a solution ultimately requires council approval, the council has the final say, Klanderud noted.The council is expected to further discuss the evolving plans for a public dialogue early in the new year.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com