We can make the entrance work
May 14, 2002
A year ago I wrote a letter to The Aspen Times, where I referenced the merits of light rail transit as the only long-term solution to the valley’s transit woes. Nothing has changed; the merits of rail are as valid today, if not more so.
The current denigrators of rail constantly crow about the ’99 election that turned down rail. However, this event, taken out of context, does not tell the whole story.
Without reiterating all the pros and cons of rail versus bus versus auto, a strong case has been made for light rail, as the only sensible long-term solution. In comparison to highway costs, rail is cheap. The passage of time will prove the pro-rail viewpoint to be correct.
It seems to me that Aspen citizens do not wish to have a “straight shot” four-lane jammed into Aspen. This was strongly expressed in the 2001 election turning down additional lanes across the Marolt open space.
I remind the reader that a practical solution could provide a two-lane parkway with a future rail transit platform without the detrimental effects of a four-lane straight shot.
The 1998 Record of Decision endorses a two-lane parkway with a platform for future light rail, which the voters approved in 1996. There is no need to enlarge the Entrance to Aspen to accommodate dedicated bus lanes that might be convened to all-purpose traffic lanes.
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Once on Main Street, buses will run in mixed traffic. Do you remember the attempt to run buses in HOV lanes? SUVs cut the line, enraging other motorists in their hurry to get downvalley. Pending the selection of a long-term environmental solution, voters approved an RTA that has chosen to use articulated diesel buses as an alternative to rail.
Given the fact that Aspen’s environment is already seriously damaged by diesel buses and trucks, it would be in the public’s interest to make an effort to implement a rail system for the valley. We must find an alternative to more diesel buses on Main.
Rail is three times more efficient than a bus system, while at the same time less polluting. Keep in mind that rail does not require magnesium chloride or gravel during winter months. Operating on a fixed guideway, rail is not affected by poor visibility, bad weather or traffic.
Until we discover the advantages of rail, we will have to live with noisy, stinky diesel buses. As development continues to grow in the valley, so also will the congestion increase, with buses also stalled in traffic. Bus drivers able to control the traffic lights is problematic at best.
The fatal flaw of the approved Entrance to Aspen is the tunnel. Conceptual design was for an electric light rail transit system. Substituting diesel buses in addition to the diesel construction trucks, will exacerbate the ventilation problems associated with a tunnel.
In this instance, a light at the end of the tunnel is a bad idea from the “git-go.” Why spoil the most beautiful view in Aspen?
There is a way to resolve the current Entrance to Aspen dilemma. Stick with the ’98 record of decision that approves a two-lane parkway with rail (without a tunnel). As an interim measure, the two-lane parkway could be “one-way” eastbound into Aspen, with one lane dedicated for buses only.
The current (7th Street, Hallam Street) route, would be converted to “one way” westbound out. This is not a new idea! This concept was known as Alternative “G” and was rejected early on because of the slowing effect on outbound traffic, but it would serve well as an alternative solution in concert with a two-lane directional inbound parkway.
This “couplet” solution could provide for dedicated bus lanes in and out of Aspen and two lanes for conventional traffic, without the onerous effects of a four-lane straight shot in and out of Aspen. The indirect benefits would be the elimination for the need of a traffic light on 7th and Main and a light at Cemetery Lane.
Cemetery Lane traffic would flow west to the roundabout to go into Aspen or downvalley. Yes, it will be shorter than the “go east to go west” route via Hallam-7th-Main to the schools or downvalley.
Well-designed, pedestrian bridges for ski and bike trails would eliminate the need for a cut-and-cover tunnel. Migrating game already use the river bottom as a corridor to access water and winter range.
I recently returned from a trip to Canada where I had an opportunity to travel by motorcoach along the Columbia Icefield Parkway. Heavy summer traffic dictated that migrating game be fenced out and directed to bridge crossings screened from view by extensive tree plantings.
These stone-faced bridge structures are well designed and attractive. They do function and provide game with a safe crossing in a natural environmental manner.
Why can’t we adopt these concepts for pedestrians and wildlife? It is not necessary to go underground to enter into Aspen. Why spoil a grand view of Aspen that has been enjoyed for over a century?
If we really want to do something about the traffic in Aspen, we will adopt a long-term, comprehensive transportation plan that incorporates the attributes of electric light rail with interfacing buses.
In the meantime, let’s enjoy the view without a tunnel in the natural daylight. I want to breathe clean air, not the exhaust fumes from diesel trucks.