Planners eye bus route changes | AspenTimes.com

Planners eye bus route changes

Gregory Conroy
Carbondale correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE ” Possible bus route changes through Carbondale were discussed during an update by Roaring Fork Transportation Authority officials at a Carbondale Board of Trustees work session Tuesday night.

RFTA Planner Kristin Kenyon pointed out that immediate plans for RFTA will revolve around concerted efforts in getting their Bus Rapid Transit program going full swing for the 2007-08 winter season.

Kenyon and RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship said the broader goal is to reduce travel time compared to the automobile.

“We are shooting for within five minutes of the auto,” Blankenship said, pointing out that the BRT program, in theory, will act like efficient rail transit. Buses also will be equipped with WiFi Internet access, which will be crucial in the future, he said.

“We’re looking to get another 300,000 to 400,000 [riders per year] in the near future,” Blankenship said. “With BRT, we can provide more capacity to serve the growing demand for transit.”

Recent improvements in RFTA’s service in Carbondale included increasing service to every 30 minutes and the opening of the new park-and-ride lot on Highway 133 last month.

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But, while RFTA has done well to address certain problems with service in Carbondale, many existing problems still remain. And the new park-and-ride service appears to be off to a slower start than expected.

“It’s a relatively new program,” said Jason White, an assistant planner with RFTA. “I think once the BRT is in place, then we are going to see some major improvements.”

“We’re hearing that our expresses aren’t really expresses,” Kenyon said.

A major issue concerning RFTA’s downtown Carbondale service is its current route and how it affects passengers. Recent passenger surveys in Carbondale resulted in 83 responses.

Results saw that almost half (45 percent) of respondents use the downtown stop in front of the swimming pool as their primary bus stop to leave Carbondale, and 24 percent of respondents use the nearby stops in front of Subway (less than one mile to the west) as their primary location.

When asked about the potential use of new stops near Wells Fargo Bank and the Carbondale Senior Housing at Hendrick Drive, 49 percent stated that they would use those stops. However, RFTA is concerned about the difficulty in creating new, safe stops along Highway 133.

Surveys also found that 52 percent of respondents agreed that a smaller, circulator/shuttle bus service is necessary in Carbondale, even with an additional assessment on taxpayers.

The survey found that serving the downtown continues to be important, as well as a growing importance in serving the Highway 133 corridor to the south (i.e. River Valley Ranch, the new Roaring Fork High School and the more dense residential neighborhoods in that area).

New route changes are being proposed by RFTA officials that would accommodate more stops along Highway 133. One route option would make a sharp loop near Snowmass Drive and head back out of town on 133.

Other potential new route proposals included serving Highway 133 and exiting town via Catherine Store Road. However, issues regarding bus weight restrictions, safety of the new bus stops and CDOT approval all need to be considered.

Another of RFTA’s new service proposals would be to add an express service that just services the park-and-ride and then heads out of town.

“People get trained,” said trustee John Foulkrod regarding RFTA’s proposed changes. “When everything gets changed, like times, places, etc., changing that routine is difficult. The focus on downtown isn’t right. The focus should be more with where the population is [more dense].”

But Trustee Russ Criswell had concerns about buses running through residential neighborhoods.

“I want to see the residential impacts addressed of 90 buses going by your house every day,” Criswell said.

Blankenship said RFTA will complete a project development wrap-up that defines operational and facility details, and will submit a federal grant application for the spring of 2008.

“In order for people to use a service, it has to be convenient,” Blankenship said. “We’re trying to make it more convenient and more attractive to people who have cars so that we can hopefully take some traffic off the roadways and reduce our carbon footprint.”

RFTA plans to convene another round of public hearings regarding route changes in February.

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