Remain calm: Traffic issues in Aspen neighborhoods driving new policy
With more people living here due to the pandemic, city officials respond to complaints in a more formal manner
With an influx of new residents who have found refuge in Aspen from more populated parts of the country during the pandemic comes more pressures on city services, so elected officials this month agreed to a new complaint system for neighborhood traffic issues.
“We are receiving more one-off requests for traffic calming, and the views of what traffic calming is varies a lot by neighborhood,” said City Manager Sara Ott during an Aspen City Council meeting Feb. 1. “For some it’s speed humps, for some it’s stop signs, for some it’s street narrowing, for others it’s curb, but what we’ve noticed is we’ve had a change in the number of folks staying here longer, including the high season clearly as a result of the pandemic and some of these folks come with requests for things they might be used to having in other environments.”
So, rather than a small-town informal response, the city’s engineering department has moved to a more formal traffic calming policy whereby complaints or requests are reviewed by a committee and then put through a series of analytical steps before any changes are made.
“Anecdotally we have been spending more time on traffic calming outside of our normal work plan,” said City Engineer Trish Aragon, noting her department received 42 complaints about speeding last year, mostly in the West End and eastside neighborhoods.
The traffic calming policy, which is in place for a year on a trial basis, only addresses speeding issues. It is modeled after other cities that have such policies on the books, and then tailored for specifics unique to this mountain town, said Raquel Flinker, a project manager in the city’s engineering department.
Concerned residents now fill out a form online, which triggers city staff to either collect data for that part of the neighborhood, or analyze existing data, as well as observe the area and talk to the person about what the perceived issue is.
Before any change is made, such as putting in a stop sign or reducing a speed limit, neighbors have to agree and so does the city.
Dedicating a seven-block section of road in the West End recently as a pedestrian-bike only thoroughfare is one example of a traffic calming measure that went through a fairly rigorous process before council agreed to it.
That change originated from neighbors in that area noticing potential pedestrian and vehicle conflict.
“People are out and about more , they are hiking and biking more than they used to be and when you are on these roadways that don’t have any infrastructure it doesn’t feel safe,” Aragon said. “When you are using people as traffic calming devices that is not how we want to slow traffic.”
It’s unlikely that such big changes will occur as a result of the new policy and procedures, but it helps move along a request or a complaint.
“Everyone will still call, and we will still talk to them, but now we have a document that shows them the process, what the triggers are,” said Pete Rice, division manager in the engineering department. “It’s more organized, efficient for us to help them, and they have to work with their neighbors a little more.”
Aragon told council that it’s more cumbersome not to have a process in place.
“Although the process does seem long it does have several check-ins with the community to make sure that not only the city is heading on the right track but also the community has bought into the solutions that are being proposed,” she said. “We want complete buy-in from those areas to make sure that we’re proceeding down a path that they want.”
Councilwoman Rachel Richards cautioned the team to not make it too much of an academic process and to connect with people in person.
“There used to be something we used to call the ‘Aspen Touch’ or the ‘Aspen Way,’” she said.
Rice said the engineering department feels the same way.
“We like to meet with people, we are very hands-on but this will continue within a process now,” he said.
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