RFTA buses cruising in new lane | AspenTimes.com

RFTA buses cruising in new lane

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

The bus lanes on Main Street have made life a little easier for bus riders but also inconvenienced some business owners.Officials with the city of Aspen and the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority say the empty lanes for public transit – operating from 3-6 p.m. in the downvalley lanes on Main Street – have been effective since they began June 5. More people are riding buses, which are getting out of town more quickly. But Dr. Scott Alter, a dentist whose practice is on the north side of Main Street, said the lane has been an inconvenience for him and his clients. His clients don’t park in front of his building after 3 p.m. – or at any other point during the day, for that matter. He said many are under the impression the lane is closed all day, so they park blocks away when they could park only feet from the door.”[The city] didn’t clearly state what the deal was, so nobody parks out there all day,” Alter said. He’d like to see the city do more to make sure people know the lane is no-parking for only three hours in the afternoon.

Even if his patients understood that parking was allowed on the north side of Main for most of the day, the closure is a problem for patients who make appointments during the restrictions. Not having that extra parking can hurt.”That’s why I picked this location out here, because I had two-hour free parking all day,” said Alter, one of many doctors and other professionals with offices along West Main.Donna Craig, the office manager at the Eye Care Institute of Aspen on West Main Street, said most of the clinic’s patients have adjusted to the change. But the office traditionally hasn’t served many patients after 3 p.m.John Krueger, Aspen’s director of transportation, said there haven’t been many parking violations along Main Street since the city opened the bus lane. The few recorded represent mostly out-of-state visitors who don’t read the signs, or people at appointments at Main Street businesses.”It’s worked exactly as designed and planned,” Krueger said. “That doesn’t always happen.”

City officials stuck fliers under the windshield wipers of cars parked on Main before the rule took effect, and it issued warnings immediately after. The city then moved on to issuing tickets, and now Krueger says most people are aware. Violators’ vehicles could be towed to free up the transit lane.Krueger added that parking was restricted even before the new rule took effect because the sidewalk ramps were being replaced, which helped people break the habit of parking there.Dan Blankenship, executive director of RFTA, said the lane has been hugely successful. Buses now get across town much faster, and ridership is also much higher than it was last year.The cars parked in the lane during rush hour don’t create much of a problem, Blankenship said.”It’s a little bit of an inconvenience, but nothing insurmountable,” he said.

Ridership in the valley for June 2006 is up 18 percent from June 2005. Numbers are also up 10.2 percent for the year to date. It is “significant and noteworthy” anytime those percentages reach double digits, Blankenship said.During the high seasons last winter and summer, RFTA drivers frequently timed the trip from Rubey Park to Cemetery Lane at 40 to 50 minutes. Since the bus lane opened, that’s been shaved to just five or 10 minutes, Blankenship said.But Alter, who drives his car to work from Basalt each day, said his commute hasn’t gotten better or worse this year.”Now we’re merging three lanes into one lane instead of two [lanes into one],” Alter said.Greg Schreier’s e-mail address is gschreier@aspentimes.com

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