Road closed ahead: Downtown Aspen streets to become shopping, dining areas?
The idea of expanding restaurant and storefronts into the streets of downtown Aspen to help invigorate the economy amid the COVID-19 crisis is gaining momentum, as a majority of people weighing in on the city’s online survey support opening the public right of way for commerce.
More than 500 people have taken the “Recovery Street Plan” survey on the city’s aspencommunityvoice.com platform. The city is taking comments until noon Monday.
In the dozens of comments that city officials will consider before making a recommendation to Aspen City Council, business owners and residents favor full or partial street closures, according to survey results obtained by The Aspen Times.
By allowing additional room to shop and eat, more customers can be accommodated under current public health orders that limit the number of people in an effort to physically distance and slow the spread of COVID-19 in the community.
Restaurants are scheduled to reopen Wednesday, but tables must be spread out 8 feet apart from each other.
“That spacing doesn’t leave a lot of room,” said Pete Rice, division manager of the city’s engineering department, who is evaluating the feedback and will devise a plan to present to council at its June 1 work session. “I think it’s really important to do the outreach first.”
Some of the options presented in the survey include closing four different areas: Cooper Avenue between Galena and Hunter streets; Hyman Avenue between Galena and Hunter streets; Galena Street between Hyman and Cooper avenues; and Galena Street between Hopkins and Hyman avenues.
There are, of course, critics of the idea, who pointed out that closing streets impacts parking, traffic and safety, and will be inequitable for some businesses who are not located on a closed street.
Others commented that tables could be placed in the streets and parks so people could order take-out and dine al fresco.
Rice said Friday that he needs to consider access for emergency and delivery vehicles, as well as those who are driving into town to work and do business.
“There has to be a thoughtful approach to it,” he said, adding that the city wants to move quickly in order to jumpstart the summer economy for local businesses, who have been shuttered since March under public health orders.
“We can do something quickly and then do a modified approach,” Rice continued. “The city is going to have to be flexible and responsive.”
Gov. Jared Polis is expected to provide guidance Monday regarding public health orders for restaurants and gathering sizes, which is just two days before Pitkin County’s public health order is set to expire and moves to another phase of reopening.
The state has approved the county’s variance that it submitted last week that allows restaurants to open and have gatherings of 50 people or fewer.
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