Push buttons return to Aspen’s Main Street crosswalks
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
ASPEN – Pedestrians were dutifully pushing the newly installed buttons at the Main Street crosswalks in downtown Aspen late last week, but they weren’t convinced the action was activating the “walk” lights any more quickly than usual.
It probably wasn’t. One workman said the system wouldn’t actually be operational until Tuesday, though orange-vested crew members pulled up the last of the traffic cones Thursday morning and cleared out, leaving Aspen with new pedestrian-activated crossing signals at three Main Street intersections where there are traffic lights. The fourth signalized intersection, at Galena Street, already had the buttons.
The new buttons already have drawn criticism from Aspen resident Alan Richman.
“The utility boxes that the Colorado Department of Transportation just installed at each traffic light are the single ugliest addition to Main Street that I have seen in my 30-plus years here,” Richman wrote in a letter published in The Aspen Times.
Most of the buttons aren’t unobtrusively attached to the signal light poles but rather are affixed to separate stanchions that were installed at many of the corners. The exception is Galena Street, where the buttons have now been extended outward from the poles, and at Mill and Main, where there is a mix of the two styles.
The detailed instructions on how to use the system and cross the street, posted above the new walk buttons, also have some residents rolling their eyes, but the system is supposed to make traffic – on foot and in vehicles – move more efficiently, according to CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks.
The $675,000 project began in mid-April and involved work at every signalized intersection along Highway 82 (Main Street in downtown Aspen) between the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport and Galena Street, with the exception of Cemetery Lane. Crews installed pedestrian push buttons, underground conduits, fiber-optic cable and communication systems that link the signals together for improved traffic management.
Detectors placed in the pavement recognize when there are vehicles waiting on side streets at the intersections, according to Shanks. If there is no vehicle on the side street and no pedestrian pushing a button to get across Highway 82, the traffic light should remain green for highway traffic.
Even when the town is busy, with a lot of side-street traffic and pedestrians pushing buttons almost continuously, highway traffic will get a green light for a set period of time. In other words, the improvement in traffic flow for a motorist on Highway 82 might be most noticeable when traffic is light.
“The benefits of the traffic flow will be more obvious in times of lower traffic,” Shanks said.
Upgrades to Main Street intersections have long been a source of consternation, or at least conversation, among Aspen residents. Holes in the signal-light poles mark the spot where the push buttons for pedestrians existed before CDOT pulled them out to – according to local lore – keep pedestrians from slowing down Highway 82 traffic.
Of course, there was a time when there were no traffic signals in downtown Aspen.
“I can remember when there weren’t any traffic lights. They put up the first one, and everyone said, ‘Noooo,'” longtime Aspenite Andi Epler said.
At one point, Main Street’s arguably busiest intersection – at Mill Street outside of the Hotel Jerome – was outfitted with pedestrian push buttons that stopped traffic simultaneously in all directions to let pedestrians cross, according to Aspen Times columnist Su Lum.
“You had about two seconds to fly in any direction, including diagonally,” she recalled. “It was ridiculously short.”
“You had to be lickety-split – you really did,” Epler agreed.
Now, for the first time in well over a decade, the Mill and Main intersection once again boasts push buttons for pedestrians.
“I’ll keep pushing it, hoping that they make a difference,” dubious resident Kellee McConnell said.
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Pitkin County administrators are proposing a more than $142 million budget for 2020, which is about $6 million less than this year because of fewer construction projects and capital improvements.