Crossing Main |

Crossing Main

M. John FayheeSpecial to The Aspen Times
Pedestrians cross in front of traffic in Aspen. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)

One of the first pieces of advice a newcomer to Aspen is likely to receive from any longtime local is to keep your wits about you as you walk around town, lest you find yourself adorning the front bumper of a passing Range Rover.Even though an extremely high percentage of the people driving around Aspen are courteous to a fault about yielding to pedestrians, it takes only one driver distracted for a half-second to precipitate a negative interaction with a pedestrian.Even though there are very few actual recordable “incidents” between cars and pedestrians, the city of Aspen’s community development department is expected later this month to issue a plan for improving pedestrian safety at three intersections on Main Street.Of more than 500 accidents that the Aspen Police Department responded to last year, only nine involved pedestrians, and none was severe.

And, Aspen Police Chief Loren Ryerson said, police issue only between 10 and 20 tickets a year to drivers not yielding to pedestrians or, more rarely, to pedestrians not yielding to vehicles. Ambiguity in the ordinances governing automobile and pedestrian interaction makes it difficult for police to issue tickets unless they witness a violation themselves.”We try to analyze dangerous intersections,” Ryerson says, “but, with so few incidents, it’s hard to categorize any given place as particularly dangerous to pedestrians. Two accidents can increase the statistics by 500 percent, and that would likely only be coincidence.” Ryerson says pedestrians have as much responsibility as drivers to make certain they do not end us as bumper fodder. Sometimes, that gets lost in Aspen’s frenetic traffic.”Pedestrians can’t just dart out in front of vehicles and expect the right of way to be yielded,” Ryerson says. At intersections with signals, they need to walk when the light says it’s OK; at other intersections, pedestrians need to indicate to a driver his or her intention to legally cross.

Ryerson pointed out that visitors, both behind the wheel and on foot, often become disoriented, looking for a business or restaurant. All it takes to ruin everyone’s day is for them to look away from the road for an instant. Other challenges include winter conditions and the city’s disposition toward minimal street lighting.Though the state of pedestrianism is Aspen is hard to quantify, it has drawn the attention of city planners, partly for reasons of safety, partly for reasons of aesthetics.And, according to city planner Ben Gagnon, the $1.2 million downtown enhancement and pedestrian plan completed in 2001 on a two-block stretch of Mill Street between Hyman and Hopkins will likely be revisited later this month with the introduction of the Civic Master Plan. The master plan, almost six years in the making by city planners, is a proposed guide for development of the civic facilities in Aspen. It will be unveiled in draft form on March 28.The brunt of the master plan’s pedestrian-oriented component, according to Gagnon, will focus on Main Street, which the draft calls “intimidating to pedestrians, and has become a barrier to north-south pedestrian movement.”

Gagnon said three distinct crossings of Main Street between the county office building and the Hotel Jerome are addressed in the master plan.”We are hoping through design work to make those crossings more attractive to pedestrians,” Gagnon said. “The area around the County Building is aesthetically unappealing to pedestrians, and the Galena extension does not even look like a pedestrian area because of all the cop cars parked in there. We are of the impression that the crossing at North Mill does not provide enough of a buffer between pedestrians and traffic.”The plan also calls for new signs that are easier for drivers and walkers to understand.Because the civic master plan is still in draft stage, there are not any specific design proposals or cost estimates for those crossings. There is also a new pedestrian-activated crossing signal planned for the intersection of Eighth and Hallam streets. It is a stand-alone project slated for completion after the Colorado Department of Transportation completes planned work on Main Street later this year.

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