Aspen City Council back pedals on $1 million bike plan
Aspen City Council had sticker shock Tuesday night when it was asked to spend nearly $1 million to improve what officials say is substandard bike infrastructure in the downtown core.
City staff has been working on a plan dubbed “Aspen Shifts Gears” that would cost just over $955,000. Its biggest impact would be making Hopkins Avenue one-way from Monarch to Spring streets so protected bike lanes could be installed. And in order to do that, head-in parking would be eliminated and replaced with parallel parking — an elimination of 97 parking spaces in the core.
Those issues and others in the plan haven’t been flushed out enough for council. Elected officials agreed to grant $100,000 to go toward a detailed plan, and have staff come back with answers in a couple of weeks.
The Shift Gears program involves creating a protected bike lane through the downtown core, using Hopkins Avenue to connect routes for those entering town from east and west, with a north-south transit route on Galena Street turning east on Cooper as far as City Market. This protected bike path would have barriers for bikers traveling against the direction of traffic.
City parking director Mitch Osur said he plans to ease the pain of losing parking spaces by adding 40. He would do that by moving vehicles that don’t pay for parking — or do at reduced rates — out of the core. One example of those types of vehicles is government cars.
“So the net loss would be 57,” he said. “Details to follow, … in the next two weeks we’ll know the plans exactly.”
There are several business owners in the commercial core who are unhappy with the loss of any parking. Osur said he plans to reach out to retailers and business owners this week to explain the plan in detail.
“I didn’t expect the businesses to love the idea,” he said. “I understand people’s frustrations but we hope they will be patient and see that it will work.”
A few of them addressed council, saying removing spaces downtown would hurt business, sterilize the downtown core and is short-sighted. Additionally, some predict that workers and business owners would be forced to park in outlying areas, putting an undue burden on residents.
“I don’t think it’s worth $1 million and 97 parking spaces,” commercial real estate broker Ruth Kruger said. “You aren’t going to change the world, but you may end up changing people’s lives.”
Patty Patterson, who owns Bloomingbirds shoe store on Hopkins Avenue, said Aspen’s aging population and those who live in areas like Woody Creek and McLain Flats simply are not going to get on a bike or bus. She said she fears a loss of business as a result of the plan.
Mayor Steve Skadron said Shift Gears is designed to create economic vitality by reducing the crush of traffic in town. And by the way, “You are not entitled to a parking space in town,” he told Patterson. “We are attempting a program that is reasonable and sensible, and one that reflects our community values.”
Perhaps it won’t work and it gets scrapped, Skadron continued. But as long as he is mayor, a reduction in vehicles is the goal — not building more lanes and parking structures to accommodate vehicles.
If council approves Aspen Shift Gears, the city plans to use regular bikes as well as a dockless bike share program where people can use an app to find the closest one to them and leave it where they’d like. It’s similar to the We-Cycle program, but there is no station to return the bikes to.
There also would be partnerships to provide electric and cargo bikes, and bikes with child and pet carriers.
Staff anticipates that Eventbase, the app company that supports the Aspen Ideas Festival, would provide a branded Aspen Shifts Gears app. Officials hope this app would become a permanent addition to the Aspen transit ecosystem.
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Aspen City Council members said they still want to forge ahead with work around affordable housing, child care and environmentalism as the city remains in response mode to COVID-19.