School district aiming to curb campus traffic |

School district aiming to curb campus traffic

John Colson
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

ASPEN”Those in charge of running Aspen’s schools are fed up with what one school board member called “a joke” ” the daily crush of cars driving onto campus.

In an effort to hold back that flood, the district is on the verge of taking drastic action, including the possible use of car boots, much steeper parking fees, and a sticker program to identify which vehicles have permission to park on campus, among other tactics.

“I just don’t feel like we’re making any progress,” declared school board member Ernie Fyrwald, after hearing Superintendent Diana Sirko and high school principal Charlie Anastas tell how past efforts were futile.

“I think we have to decide if we want to accommodate cars on the campus or discourage them,” added school board member Fred Peirce.

For years administrators have lamented the flood of cars that inundates the school campus on Maroon Creek Road every day of the school year, either to park there for the day while teachers and student drivers are in class, or to drop off students who are not taking the school bus.

Different driver-disincentive programs have been tried over the years but have failed to stem the tide, including some that were part of recommendations from a special task force in 2005.

Some of the suggestions have been tried, but others have not, Sirko told the school board in a memo for the May 5 meeting.

For example, Sirko reported that the district hired a parking enforcement officer last fall, but the person only stayed on the job for two months and left for reasons she did not explain.

“We just don’t have the people power to have somebody standing out in the lot all day” to make sure the rules are followed by students, parents, staff and others, Sirko said.

In that case, Peirce declared, it is up to the district to simply inform parents, students and others that the 27-acre Aspen campus is geared toward pedestrians, not cars.

“I understand it’s convenient,” Peirce said of the drop-off habit used by many parents. “But it isn’t the right thing to do.”

He recalled riding his bicycle up Maroon Creek Road one recent afternoon and observing “a line of cars from the middle school to the roundabout … It was a joke.”

He said a permit system might be the answer, but only if it is “clean, and … obvious. And we have to have serious consequences” for all violators.

For example, Peirce said, if someone improperly parks on campus, the car could be towed to the local impound lot.

“We have to get the hammer out and forget about the carrot,” Peirce said.

Other board members agreed.

Among other proposals, board members seemed to agree that the situation would benefit from a parking-permit system and use of the infamous “Denver boot” on cars found in violation of the rules.

“If they’re parking where they don’t belong,” said board member Charla Belinski, “fine ’em, ticket ’em, boot ’em, whatever.”

Fyrwald asked whether the district could make use of an intercept lot where parents could drop off their children for pick-up by a school bus, without clogging up the campus,

Sirko, seeming to argue for restraint, said she and her team of administrators had been wrestling with these issues but had veered away from confrontational tactics that might alienate parents and students alike.

“You’ve got to pick your battles,” she said, warning that more affluent families would not feel the bite of a strict traffic management program as much as poorer ones.

Board member Laura Kornasiewicz responded that the program should be made “self-funding,” perhaps by raising the cost of parking permits from its current cost of $60, and that it should be viewed as a way of increasing the district’s bus ridership numbers from the current 50 percent level.

The board left it up to Sirko to come up with proposals and bring them back at a future meeting, although she showed some resistance to being cast as a parking enforcer.

“The P in my Ph.D. does not stand for parking,” she said. “I’m not a traffic-flow person.”

The board, acknowledging that it was not a proper use of her abilities, suggested she contact the city’s parking department to see if anyone there has any ideas.

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