More concrete data needed before changes made downtown, ACRA board members say |

More concrete data needed before changes made downtown, ACRA board members say

A bike rider crosses the street in downtown Aspen on a cool day as the leaves begin changing on Aspen Mountain on Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. The weather is forecasted to stay in the low 70s throughout the week with lots of sunshine.(Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Some leaders in Aspen’s business community urged city officials Tuesday to think about the consequences produced by measures aimed at improving safety and mobility for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists who use the downtown core.

At the Aspen Chamber Resort Association’s monthly board meeting, directors said they wanted more information before they draw any conclusions about the city’s latest initiative being entertained to address downtown traffic flow and parking.

Their comments came after a presentation from members of the city’s engineering department, who recently have been meeting with Aspen interests about altering the part of Galena Street — between Hopkins and Cooper avenues — that is in the heart of downtown with ample foot, bicycle and motorized traffic. Recent city outreach in the community about that two-block stretch has focused on eliminating left turns onto Hyman Avenue, replacing diagonal with parallel parking, adding dedicated a bicycle way, and widening the sidewalks. As part of the changes, Hyman Avenue would become one-way traveling west from Hunter Street.

The alterations would add ease and heighten safety in the downtown core, Aspen officials have said.

“All users in the downtown core are feeling a sense of chaos when navigating,” city project manager PJ Murray told the ACRA board.

City officials offered ample data about the need for changes to downtown’s current configuration, showing survey results detailing residents and businesses’ desire to try out some pilot programs to improve safety for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists.

Some ACRA board members, however, said they wanted to see problem spots pinpointed downtown before any changes take place.

A biker crosses Park Avenue on Hopkins as cars pass by in Aspen on Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

A key question — where are the most dangerous and troublesome spots downtown? — must be answered before the city starts messing with parking configurations and traffic flow, they said.

Lisa LeMay, who represents the retail sector on the ACRA board, said she wants to see data “reflecting a number of altercations between both automobiles and pedestrians, and automobiles and bicycles. So far there haven’t been any stats, whether in a newspaper article or in your presentations, and I think that would be a big plus to promoting this point. I’m not necessarily giving an endorsement, but stats would help with the business end and trying to get business to stand behind it.”

The intersection at Galena Street and Hyman, a point of emphasis in the reimagined downtown, was where a vehicle struck and killed a 5-year-old girl in March 2020.

At the same intersection Aug. 2, a vehicle reportedly turning left onto Hyman hit a pedestrian in the leg and knocking the person to the street. But aside from the March 2020 tragedy and the occasional anecdote about a mishap resulting in injury at the intersection, there’s no real data supporting the city’s proposition, said Maria Morrow, who as an ACRA board member speaks for the professional services sector.

“I just don’t want stats just about what has happened, but I want to know where,” she said. “There’s a feeling this is a war on cars and the desire to put bikes in what’s the commercial core, where there are all of those spaces for everybody.”

The city has said 44 parking spots would be lost with the changes being entertained; however, 47 parking spaces would be added elsewhere in town. That includes 18 new spaces in the area of the St. Regis Aspen and Mountain Chalet, 12 spaces across from Francis Whitaker Park on Monarch Street, six spaces across from the Limelight Hotel, four spaces in the vicinity of the outdoor ice rink and Grand Hyatt, and seven near St. Mary Church. Eight-hour residential parking would be replaced with four-hour paid parking in affected areas, according to city officials.

For all of the talk about safety downtown, Morrow said a city law flaunts that notion, referring to a 2013 decision by Aspen City Council allowing cyclists to yield at stop signs rather than come to a complete halt.

“We still have a rule that bikers can ride through stop signs in downtown,” she said, “and there’s a very strong feeling if we were really serious about eliminating conflict, we would rescind that rule. And I would urge council to rescind that to show that it is heartfelt in thinking about safety and not just having a war on cars.”

While LeMay and Morrow wondered aloud whether the proposal would spawn confusion rather than safety, board member Sam Barney said sidewalks and bike ways are no good without consistent enforcement by local peace officers. E-bikes in particular have added another layer of safety concerns, he said.

“I like the idea of dedicated bike and sidewalk areas, but I feel like they will ultimately fail without enforcement,” he said. “And I feel like there is a general lack of enforcement in the city of Aspen with bicyclists and pedestrians.”

He suggested the city require licenses for people to ride e-bikes.

“A lot of those people don’t operate well with a regular bike, so putting a motor on it is a little bit scary,” he said.

People cross at Mill St. and Main St. as cars attempt to turn near Hotel Jerome in Aspen on Wednesday, June 23, 2021. In an attempt to take control of the traffic lights and cross walk signals, the City of Aspen is currently negotiating a contract with the Colorado Department of Transportation.(Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Likewise, board member Charlie Yantis, who represents the financial sector, called for more enforcement “to let them know there are police out there and be careful.” He noted the right-turn from Mill Street onto Main Street — at the Hotel Jerome — is especially tricky with the pedestrian walkways in the immediate vicinity.

Pete Rice of the city’s engineering department said the civic outreach meetings about downtown safety have yielded a fair amount of concern about enforcement. It’s something the city and police department are aware of, but Rice said a greater law enforcement presence isn’t necessarily the panacea for downtown’s navigational woes.

“The one thing that I would say from the engineering perspective is if you are utilizing police enforcement as a mechanism for safety, then it’s not sustainable,” he said. “That usually means you’re in trouble when you have to rely on law enforcement. … You don’t want to necessarily rely on that.”

City officials said their minds aren’t set and they’ll take the suggestions under considerations. A public outreach program for the coming months will include pop events, open houses, meetings and surveys.

It won’t be until January or February when Aspen City Council outreach results are shared with Aspen City Council and talks about how to proceed are conducted.

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