Third place: RFTA isn’t the fastest, but it’s low-stress | AspenTimes.com

Third place: RFTA isn’t the fastest, but it’s low-stress

Janet Urquhart

The race began at 5 p.m. at The Aspen Times, and Janet Urquhart's bus didn't leave the station until 5:15. Still, she was the third racer to reach the ABC. (Mark Fox/Aspen Times Weekly)

Cars and SUVs weren’t backed up to the Hotel Jerome when I crossed Main Street around 5 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, headed for the Rubey Park bus station.That’s always a good sign. The Jerome jam signals a slow ride – the glacially paced commute that used to fill me with dread, or at least reminded me to answer nature’s call before I board a bus. That was before the city rolled out its Main Street bus lane this summer, affording riders a free skip to the front of the daily crawl or, rather, a clear shot at barging into the middle of the pack.

By 5:05 p.m. I had secured a window seat on the 5:15 express to Basalt and El Jebel. Ten minutes later, a half-full bus pulled away from the curb for the shot down Aspen Street to Main, where we waited briefly at a red light. Then came the inevitable wait at Garmisch and Main, where another bunch of passengers got on board.Ahead, I could see the sea of brake lights backed up to First Street. It’s the highlight of a bus rider’s day: Grinding into gear, we cruised up our empty lane, passing block after block of stalled commuters until we merged back into mixed traffic just before Seventh Street. Five minutes out of Rubey Park, we were at the Hickory House – a trip that stretched to 30 minutes during heavy traffic last summer.From Seventh Street on, traffic moved slowly but steadily. Our last chance to dust another line of cars, just beyond the roundabout, depends on a gutsy bus driver and a clear shot to the next bus stop, just beyond the roundabout. On Wednesday, we had neither. Though it’s clearly marked as a bus-only lane, other vehicles blocked us as their drivers waited to merge into the left-hand lane. And our driver chose not to accelerate past a half-dozen cars after the empty bus stop.

Luckily, we got a green light at the golf course and rolled onto the Maroon Creek Bridge. I spied my co-worker, Jeanne, walking briskly toward the bridge as we passed.We lost our chance at coasting through the Buttermilk light when we stopped for a waiting rider at the Buttermilk stop. Another sole rider boarded at the Aspen Business Center, and we cruised through the green ABC light at 5:32 p.m.Seventeen minutes to the ABC. Not bad, considering the trip took at least 45 minutes during the worst of times last summer. Plus, when I’m not taking notes for a traffic story, I get to read and relax on the bus.