Trolley plan scrutinized by panels
October 23, 2002
The risk of getting run over by a trolley, maintenance costs, ridership and how to cross tracks on a bicycle all received an airing Tuesday during a Squirm Night debate on a proposed trolley line in Aspen.
The debate, sponsored by Aspen’s two newspapers, focused a great deal on the Aspen Street Railway Co.’s ability to raise $5.5 million to build the privately funded system and what it might cost the city to run it after it’s built.
But aside from the financial questions, citizens peppered pro-trolley panelists and their opponents with a host of technical questions: Will trolleys make a lot of noise? No. Can they operate in the winter? Yes. Will there be an electrified rail in the pavement? No. Will people ride them? Yes, or no (opinions varied). Will track installation require years of construction? No, just two off-seasons. Will bicyclists star in spectacular crashes when their tires get caught in the grooves of the track? Not if they know how to cross over correctly.
Referendum 2D on the city’s Nov. 5 ballot asks voters if the city should hold on to its six vintage trolley cars and cooperate with the railway company to refurbish the cars and put them to use. As currently planned, the trolleys would replace the Galena Street Shuttle’s downtown service, running from the post office to Rubey Park, including a four-block stretch on Galena Street.
Lilly Garfield, owner of the Cos Bar on Galena Street, predicted Aspen’s upscale shoppers would not park their vehicles in the city parking garage and ride the trolley.
“Our customer here is not interested in the foo-foo trolley,” she said. “Will it help the downtown of Aspen? I don’t think so.”
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Garfield also suggested trolleys running in traffic would pose a danger to pedestrians. She served on the panel opposing Referendum 2D along with City Councilman Tony Hershey and local TV talk show host Andrew Kole.
Bill Dinsmoor, a local restaurant owner and railway company member, noted the Galena Street Shuttle sees a lot of use during peak seasons and suggested the trolley would, as well.
“I don’t think people will come to Aspen to ride a trolley,” he added. “I don’t think this is about putting heads in beds.”
The trolley line is, rather, an incremental step toward improving the Aspen experience for visitors, said Dinsmoor, who was joined by trolley advocate Kip Wheeler and Denver consultant Jim Graebner on the pro-trolley panel.
Local bike shop owner and avid biker Charlie Tarver quizzed Graebner on the compatibility of tracks and bicycles, especially given the number of unskilled riders who get on a bike in Aspen during their vacation.
“I cannot ride a bicycle on a street with an embedded track,” Tarver said.
“In most cities in Europe ? bicycles reign supreme and there are huge tramway systems,” countered Graebner, a transit industry consultant who said he has worked on more than two dozen trolley systems around the country.
It takes some education, he conceded, to make sure bicyclists know they should cross the tracks at a sharp angle.
Asked just how they plan to raise $5.5 million, Wheeler said the railway company has “a number of alternatives” but offered no specific strategy.
Other cities have tapped federal and/or state dollars, created local business improvement districts and pulled in private money through various means, including offering naming rights to cars and stations, Graebner said.
The trolley advocates also tried to assuage fears that the antique cars will cost far more to operate than the Galena Street Shuttle.
“Basically, what we’re getting here is possibly a white elephant,” Hershey complained.
The railway company’s memo of understanding with the city puts the onus of funding any overage in maintenance and operating costs with the railway group, countered Dinsmoor.
In addition, the city will have control over the cost of the system by adjusting its days and hours of operation and frequency of service, Graebner pointed out.
“The worst case is, you don’t run them,” he said. “You put the cars back where they were and let them rot some more.”
[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]