Businesses fight back on Aspen’s plan to take parking away | AspenTimes.com

Businesses fight back on Aspen’s plan to take parking away

A crowd of business owners pack a meeting room in the Aspen fire station to tell city officials how displeased they are with the government's plan to make a portion of Hopkins Avenue one-way and eliminate 15 parking spaces.

Terrible. Stupid. Senseless. Off-base. Madness. A mistake. Insane.

Those were some of the ways business representatives described the city of Aspen's latest proposal to turn a portion of Hopkins Avenue into a one-way street and remove 15 parking spaces.

It's a scaled-back version of what the city has been calling "Aspen Shifts Gears," which is an attempt to dedicate more bike lanes in the downtown core and make it friendlier for cyclists.

About 60 people packed into the meeting room at the Aspen fire station to tell city officials what they thought of their plans to make downtown a safer bike corridor.

The sentiment in the room was that businesses are going to lose money if customers can't park near their stores and restaurants.

"We have been in business for 30 years and it doesn't get any easier," said Cache Cache owner Jodi Larner, adding that rent, staffing and running a restaurant are challenging enough. "Now we are going to deal with this horseshit plan?"

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The gathering was organized by the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, and it allowed Mitch Osur and Pete Rice, both from the city, to explain the plan in detail and the impetus for it.

But before they could finish their presentation, the crowd of business people from the downtown core unleashed their opinions.

Craig Cordts-Pearce, who with his wife, Samantha, own four restaurants in town, one of which is located where the city wants to experiment with the one-way and two-way bike lanes, said the plan is stupid.

"It's always the busiest place in town," he said, adding that most people coming into Aspen are heading to that block of Hopkins. "It's basically going to create more traffic and make everyone frustrated."

Samantha Cordts-Pearce concurred, saying it's the busiest street in town year-round.

"Why do the experiment there?" she said. "It doesn't make sense."

The plan calls for Hopkins Avenue to become one-way with traffic heading west from Mill Street to Aspen Street, near Paepcke Park. It's billed as an extension of the city's bike-pedestrian route on Hopkins Avenue that begins at Seventh Street.

Many people clapped when one business owner said eliminating even one parking space is too much.

That prompted a response from Osur, saying if business owners covet parking so much, why do they let their employees take up 30 percent of the spaces in the core?

"You guys are talking out of both sides of your mouths," he told the group.

Osur, who is the city's parking director and a former retailer, said when studying other cities that have implemented these types of alternative transit "living labs," businesses saw increased sales.

Many retailers objected to that notion and said Aspen is different, particularly because the average age of residents and tourists are older.

And people aren't buying furniture at Chequers, buying a rug at Isberian Rug Co. or getting their hair done at M Salon and riding off on their bikes, several business owners said.

"Nobody's putting a helmet on after they get their hair done, by the way," said Marci DiSalvo, who owns a salon on Hopkins Avenue.

Her husband, Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo, said the city government needs a reality check.

"I don't think you realize that you are experimenting with our livelihoods," he said, noting he was speaking as a citizen.

Wendy Mitchell, who owns Meat and Cheese and Hooch below M Salon, said she couldn't figure out where the city's plan is coming from.

"I don't understand who this is for," she said. "None of my customers want this."

Osur and Rice, who is a project manager for the city's engineering department, told the crowd that it's part of the government's overall goal to reduce traffic in town and make it more bike- and pedestrian-oriented.

Ruth Kruger, a commercial real estate broker, said she feels safe when biking in town.

"You are creating a solution to something that is not a problem," she said. "More people aren't going to bike because you made it safer."

Travis McLain, who owns Radio Boardshop, along with others in the room, agreed that they feel safe riding their bikes through the commercial core.

They said if it's a public safety issue as the city suggests, the police need to enforce laws governing bicyclists.

The Aspen Police Department reported that there have been nine bike-versus-car accidents in the core in the past four years, and 17 total in the city. Two of them were on Hopkins Avenue. Cathleen Treacy, the records specialists for the department, said she doesn't have a way to track citations issued to bicyclists.

Joe DiSalvo said he believes the reason this plan and others related to alternative transit are driven by some elected officials' own agendas. He said he wished council members attended the meeting, and applauded the only councilman there, Bert Myrin, for having the guts to show up.

Myrin told the group that he believes the reason this plan recently got on the radar and took the business community by surprise is because an effort to raise millions of dollars for what is being called a "mobility lab" failed within City Hall and this is the alternative.

He said he doesn't want the local government to be in an adversarial relationship with the business community.

"We are not here to be on the opposite side of everyone," Myrin said.

The city will hold four open houses next week for restaurateurs and retailers before having a broader one for the public later this month. The bike-pedestrian extension proposal is scheduled to go in front of council on April 2.

Rice said the current plan might change based on feedback.

"We are listening," he said. "It's pretty clear how you feel."

csackariason@aspentimes.com