Traffic levels into Aspen on the decline, continues downward trend
While it may not seem like it, traffic levels into and out of Aspen are declining, and 2019 was no exception.
Last year’s traffic counts were below the 1993 target levels by 10.9%, according to John Krueger, the city’s director of transportation. And there has been a downward trend since 2015 — almost 5% overall.
The average number of cars coming into and out of town on a daily basis in 2019 was 21,105; 7.7 million trips for the whole year.
“That’s why we have backups,” Krueger said. “Even if the average goes down, it still feels bad.”
He added that to have free-flowing traffic in the S-curves, only 800 cars can pass through with little delay or congestion.
Far more than that pass through during peak times in the morning and evening during high season.
Offseason months are when free-flowing traffic moves through the S-curves, but it’s not reasonable to think that is a goal that’s achievable year round, Krueger noted.
“The free-flow condition is the month of May, but if every month was like May that would probably be bad,” he said in reference to the local economy.
The city has maintained a traffic counter at Cemetery Lane and the Castle Creek Bridge since 1999.
Krueger said when traffic was the worst in 2004 and 2005, peak volumes were as high as 1,200 vehicles per hour, resulting in long delays on Main Street, and gridlock on streets in the West End and Power Plant Road.
During those years, there were nine months in which traffic levels went beyond the 1993 target year.
The monthly average of 23,675 is the key number and was adopted by the community as the target not to exceed. It also was adopted in the Aspen Area Community Plan.
Some months have been higher or lower than the 1993 levels but the annual average has remained lower than the target for two decades, according to Krueger.
There have been 25 months in the past 20 years when that threshold was passed, and most of them occurred before 2007.
Still, it’s an accomplishment in an era and in a state where traffic levels are on the rise in most communities, Krueger said.
“We’ve been successful in maintaining — not solving — the traffic levels and we are not going up, so that is something,” he said. “It’s led to cleaner air and less carbon.”
The city has been able to curb traffic levels because of its multimillion-dollar investment in transit alternatives like the free Downtowner, the bike-share program WeCycle, in-town buses and the car-sharing program Car to Go.
The city’s increase in paid parking also has deterred people from driving into town.
On a regional level, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s BRT system established in 2013 has increased bus ridership, and more people are using the Brush Creek Park and Ride.
The city’s share of Pitkin County’s 1% transit tax is budgeted to generate $5 million this year. That goes toward the free buses in town, according to Krueger.
About $1.5 million comes from paid parking revenue, which also pays for transit services, as does contributions from the city’s sales, lodging and use taxes.
“The job is to give people options to get out of their car,” Krueger said. “None of these things are massive but they all help.
“There’s no silver bullet.”
Krueger added that based off of other communities around the state that he has visited in his capacity as director of transportation, Aspen is a leader in this realm.
“We are the model,” he said. “Most communities don’t have what we have. … They wish they had even one of our programs.”
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Holiday lights are permitted during the winter, not summer in Aspen.