Spending a Band-Aid for Aspen’s traffic problem
September 29, 2005
Traffic made Aspen feel a lot like everywhere else this summer, and there’s nothing special about that.Mind-numbing traffic jams left people idling in their cars on Main Street, sometimes for nearly an hour, during afternoon rush hour. For the downvalley residents who make up the bulk of the resort’s labor force, the morning drive into town was just as bad, with backups beginning at Buttermilk adding 30 or 40 minutes to the morning commute.Downvalley commuters may bear the brunt of Aspen’s traffic woes, but by no means are they the only victims. Aspenites get to choke down the smog idle traffic generated each and every day. And it’s not difficult to imagine the many hundreds of visitors who expected to escape their daily routines only to find themselves stuck in traffic in Aspen.City Council applied a Band-Aid to the problem this week by agreeing to spend more than $300,000 on the problem. Access will be eliminated from side streets to Highway 82 as it winds through the West End (via Main Street, Seventh Street and Hallam Avenue). And eight blocks of the downvalley lanes on Main Street will be repainted to create a bus-only lane, hopefully giving public transportation an edge up. But much more is needed.Traffic counts across the Castle Creek bridge have exceeded 1993 levels this summer for the first time in a dozen years. Although one city employee tried to downplay the importance of exceeding that threshold, it should instead be setting off alarm bells.For 12 years, Aspen and other valley communities, along with key private employers, threw their support behind the public transit system with marketing, subsidies and incentives to keep traffic counts down. Aspen’s leadership also began a lengthy and often contentious debate about the town’s downvalley entrance, eventually convincing voters to approve rerouting Highway 82 across the Marolt Open Space with one lane in each direction for traffic and a light rail system as far as the airport.It appeared Aspen had found short- and long-term solutions to the traffic problem. But locals – especially those living in town – have always been ambivalent about what they want the Entrance to Aspen to look like. After they subsequently rejected a funding proposal for the light rail system, only the short-term solutions remained intact.This summer made it clear that the short term is over. It is time for Aspen’s community leaders, in both the public and private sectors, to take control of this problem by reconsidering old ideas or coming up with new ones to solve what’s become an intolerable situation.