Mass transit needs its own lane out of town
July 1, 2005
Aspenites have always liked to think they enjoy the best of two worlds: the easy life of a small town plus all the advantages of living in a big city. Unfortunately, the disadvantages of living in a city are creeping into our lives, as well.
Within the last two weeks, afternoon rush hour on Main Street has twice turned into the kind of gridlock normally associated with Los Angeles, Houston and other major metropolitan areas.
The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority reported that on June 22 and June 28 its buses spent more than 40 minutes in traffic between Rubey Park and Cemetery Lane. That means they were traveling less than 2 mph. It’s an ugly picture that will only get uglier as more and more cars make their way into town for the summer season.
While frustrated workers and visitors sit and stew in a mix of exhaust and frustration, the City Council and its staff have been unduly cautious about a situation that will only deteriorate without their attention.
Most recently, Dan Blankenship, RFTA’s executive director, asked the city to consider creating a transit-only lane on Main Street so that buses could get past the gridlock. Most days such a lane would cut bus riders’ time from Rubey Park to Cemetery Lane to eight to 10 minutes during the rush hour.
Parking would have to be eliminated for part or all of the day on about seven blocks on Main. But the move would also reward those who ride public transportation with a quicker trip through town ” a huge transit incentive for the driver who’s stuck in traffic.
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City Council has in the past asked the Colorado Department of Transportation to approve a transit-only lane for a trial period. But CDOT declined to restripe Main, at a seemingly astronomical cost of $200,000, simply to experiment with the idea. Either make it permanent, CDOT said, or don’t do it.
Fair enough, even if it puts the City Council in the uncomfortable position of having to make a decision that will anger some residents and business owners.
With enormous investment over the years by communities from Aspen to New Castle, RFTA has built the second-largest bus system in the state. It serves thousands of people, from the downvalley commuters who ride the bus each day to the Aspenites who see fewer cars coming into town each day as a result.
Creating a transit-only lane is one important way for Aspen to put public transit ahead of all the people who drive to work in their cars and trucks. Sometimes elected officials have to make a tough call ” and in this case the call should go to transit.