City of Aspen spends $400K to prepare for traffic experiment

Officials will start evicting overnight sleepers at the Intercept Lot on Highway 82 near Aspen. There is a growing problem with people using the lot to camp, officials said this week, and steps will be taken in the coming weeks to oust the overnight sleepers.
Anna Stonehouse / Aspen Times file photo

Aspen City Council on Monday approved spending just over $400,000 to prepare for a three-month experiment that will occur in summer 2019 designed to get people out of their cars.

The Aspen Mobility Lab, also known as “SHIFT 2019,” will have a host of incentives for motorists to try other options in an effort to reduce congestion from the airport to the S-curves and into town.

The lab could cost around $2 million, Mayor Steve Skadron said, adding that it’s money better spent rather than $200 million to build a four-lane highway or any other major infrastructure project that accommodates the car.

The Entrance to Aspen and its traffic woes have been a topic of heated debate for decades, and with more than 30 elections on the issue, no solution has ever been agreed upon among city and county residents.

So Aspen’s elected officials are hoping a different approach eases the problem enough to make it noticeable. The goal is to have 500 or 600 fewer cars a day coming into town during the lab.

Councilman Adam Frisch said that while he supports the effort, he is concerned that the options aren’t enough to significantly reduce the amount of time it takes people to get into town. Cutting off six minutes might not be enough.

“For the vast majority of people it’s a time factor and a convenience thing,” he said.

But like the rest of his fellow council members, he’s willing to try whatever option is available to alleviate a big problem affecting a big portion of the resort community’s population.

“I’m happy to keep chipping away at it. … A couple hundred grand … a couple hundred grand … a couple hundred grand,” he said. “We are in this for the long slog.”

Councilwoman Ann Mullins said she thinks a lot of the money spent during the lab ought to be on increased bus service and circulator vans that take people to various locations in town from the Brush Creek Intercept Lot. That’s how commuter time will be reduced, she added.

Assistant City Manager Barry Crook said the team working on the lab plan on it.

“We have significant amounts of money to make sure the time savings is real,” he said.

Crook said the city is even looking into the possibility of an autonomous circulator that will take people to certain locations in town.

Other commuter options being pursued for the lab are giving people monetary incentives to park at the Intercept or Buttermilk lots, along with additional free in-town transit vehicles and new bike infrastructure.

“These are real options to get people out of their cars,” said Ashley Pearl, the city’s climate action manager.

She noted that they won’t be for everyone but hopes there are enough people who will take the carrots being offered by the city to dramatically reduce traffic.

Aspen resident Ruth Kruger told council that it should look for ways to support businesses and their employees, and to keep traffic in perspective.

“Good lord, go to Denver or anywhere in California,” she said. “I think we are chasing a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Still, council members moved forward in unity, agreeing it’s a quality-of-life issue.

“I really think we are headed in the right direction,” Councilman Ward Hauenstein said.