RFTA wants Aspen to help buses get out of town | AspenTimes.com

RFTA wants Aspen to help buses get out of town

A top transit official says Aspen must help buses get out of town quicker during weekday afternoons if it expects commuters to leave their vehicles at home.Roaring Fork Transportation Authority CEO Dan Blankenship said it would be a huge incentive to get people onto buses if they could avoid the congestion that plagues the west end of Main Street some weekday afternoons.”There’s nothing more powerful than a bus going by a line of cars to get that point across,” Blankenship said.It took 50 minutes for some buses to travel from the Rubey Park bus station in downtown Aspen to Cemetery Lane on June 22. On Tuesday, a commuter reported that it took 40 minutes to cover that same distance on a 5 p.m. “express bus” to El Jebel and Carbondale.No accidents or road work hampered travel on either day. The S-curves by the Hickory House simply couldn’t handle the volume of traffic efficiently enough, so traffic stacked on Main Street.”If we continue to get stuck in that congestion … our ability to promote buses as alternative transportation isn’t as effective,” Blankenship said.RFTA wants a seven-block bus lane created on Main Street between Garmisch and Seventh streets. It would be for buses only, allowing them to avoid occasional gridlock in the other two outbound lanes. The other two outbound lanes would remain available for all other vehicles.The idea has been discussed by city officials but not acted on. Creating the lane would require the city to eliminate parking spaces on the north side of Main Street. The spaces on the south side – where the bus lane would actually be located – would be closed from 3 to 6 p.m. on weekdays, Blankenship said.Unfortunately, the project isn’t as easy as just removing parking on the south side. That wouldn’t create a lane wide enough for a bus.The north-side parking spaces would have to be eliminated to create enough space to accommodate a wide bus lane as well as four regular travel lanes and a turning lane, Blankenship said.The Aspen City Council directed its staff earlier this month to contact the Colorado Department of Transportation to see if an experimental bus lane could be established on Main Street, according to John Krueger, the city’s transportation director. The council wants to see if the lane solves the problem and if residents can live with it before they commit to the change. In the past, the state transportation department has resisted the idea of an experiment.”CDOT previously said it’s not really something we experiment with – we either do it or we don’t,” Krueger said.CDOT calls the shots on Main Street because it is actually part of Highway 82.The projected cost is a hurdle for the experiment. Repainting stripes for lanes would cost an estimated $200,000. The city doesn’t want to sink big bucks into an experiment, especially since CDOT plans to resurface Main Street next year, Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud said.She referred further questions about the bus lane plan to Assistant City Manager Randy Ready. He didn’t return repeated calls but asked Krueger to call for him.Krueger said if CDOT rejects a request for a bus lane experiment on Main Street, the council might be forced into making a tough call. The board might have to decide whether to support a permanent bus lane before Main Street is resurfaced in 2006.Even if it is added, the value of the bus lane would be limited.”I think whenever we can help mass transit it is a good idea,” Krueger said. “It’s not going to help cars get out of town quicker.”Blankenship said the addition of a special lane could reduce the trip out of town to eight to 10 minutes consistently for buses.But for this summer, no relief is in sight. The highest traffic volumes typically occur later in the summer, when up to 1,400 vehicles per hour try to exit Aspen. That’s when day-tripping tourists mingle with workers heading home.”In July and August, we get into 29,000 cars per day, (both) in and out,” Krueger said. “The volume is so heavy that it doesn’t take much to get it out of whack.”Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com