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S-curve ideas take shape

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Limiting side-street access in the S-curves and prohibiting left turns off Cemetery Lane onto Highway 82 have emerged as key components of a pending report on how to improve traffic flow at Aspen’s western entrance.

An S-curves task force, appointed by the City Council, gave a preliminary nod Wednesday to a host of changes that could be made quickly and cheaply to help relieve the traffic bottleneck on the west side of town. A draft of its report to the council, along with a map detailing the group’s suggestions, will be the focus of what is supposed to be its final meeting, on Oct. 15.

More dramatic proposals to reconfigure the highway – including a reversible third lane that would carry inbound traffic in the morning and outbound traffic in the afternoon – have fallen out of consideration, at least in the group’s list of recommendations to be implemented in the near term.

After much debate yesterday, the group also agreed the traffic island that currently exists at Seventh and Hallam streets must remain, though modifications to the island to widen the inbound turn will be recommended.

The island is necessary if the ability to turn left on Seventh for inbound vehicles is retained, advised Nick Senn, the highway engineer working with the task force.

“That left-turn bay is a killer for this intersection,” he said.

“How many people are we inconveniencing by shutting off the turn onto Seventh Street?” asked task force member Tom McCabe. “Shouldn’t we have some idea of how much traffic uses that on a regular basis?”

Ultimately, the group agreed that left turns onto Seventh from the highway aren’t causing traffic backups and decided to leave it alone, though member Bill Wiener argued traffic shouldn’t be able to enter the highway from the south on Seventh Street.

“Seventh Street coming into that intersection is messing up everything else,” he said.

The task force has called for blocking off Eighth Street at the highway, as well as the alleyways that feed into the S-curves, where the highway winds through two 90-degree turns between the Castle Creek bridge and the upper end of Main Street.

The group is also recommending parking be eliminated on the north side of Main Street, from Aspen Street to Seventh Street, during the busy afternoon hours, allowing the parking lane to function as an exclusive bus lane.

According to the task force, outbound traffic on Main Street, heading into the S-curves, should only be allowed to turn right onto Seventh. After that, motorists could turn left onto Bleeker, turn left at Hallam to proceed out of town or continue straight on Seventh.

Inbound traffic would have two options at the corner of Hallam and Seventh – a left turn toward Aspen Meadows at Seventh or a right, heading into town. Motorists who take a right turn could then turn right at Bleeker or proceed to Main Street, where they could turn right onto West Main, proceed straight on Seventh or follow the highway left onto Main.

Bus stops on Seventh should be eliminated, but the group is recommending an improved pedestrian crossing at Eighth Street and retaining bus stops on either side of the highway there. The task force is suggesting a pedestrian-activated yellow light be installed at that crossing.

Pedestrian improvements on the Castle Creek bridge, including wider sidewalks, are also envisioned.

The group would also like to see a sidewalk installed on the south side of upper Main Street, where none currently exists. It shouldn’t be a traditional straight swath of concrete, but a walkway that winds around the mature trees and accommodates the ditch there.

At Cemetery Lane, left turns onto the highway would no longer be permitted, forcing motorists bound for Aspen to turn right, circle the roundabout and head back into town.

“Would the Cemetery Lane traffic actually do this, or would they all go down Power Plant Road?” asked West End resident John Doremus, predicting greater numbers of vehicles using the shortcut to bypass the S-curves and enter town through the West End.

“This can be huge. It’s already huge,” he complained.

“Our priority is to make Highway 82 work best as an artery. It’s not a perfect solution,” McCabe responded. “I think everybody understands that, implicitly, this is a system of compromises.”

The traffic signal at Cemetery Lane would remain, but would no longer stop highway traffic for the left-turn flow off the side road. The group has recommended the left-turn lane on the highway into Cemetery Lane be lengthened to hold five or six cars, and that the traffic light be regulated to halt downvalley highway traffic only when enough vehicles have lined up to make the turn.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]


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