Andersen: A new transit hub for Aspen
October 1, 2013
It's time to look beyond Rubey Park as the long-term transit hub for Aspen. There is another plan on the table that recommends a complete shift in location and a huge shift in thinking about Aspen's long-range transit picture. (See http://www.galena plaza.com for details.)
This radical proposal comes from Action Radius Research/Design, a local design studio with "a history of innovative, out of the box thinking and revolutionary patented solutions."
Action Radius believes that immediate and long-term limitations at Rubey Park cast serious doubts about its future as an appropriate transit hub, especially as demand is expected to rise: "The chief problem with Rubey Park is the concentration of buses that circulate through downtown — 500-600 per day. The plan to station more buses along Durant (Avenue) will produce even more stress on community livability."
The more appropriate place for an urban transit hub in Aspen, says Action Radius Research/Design, is Galena Plaza. Also known as Library Plaza, this location is just off Main Street, next door to the Pitkin County Courthouse.
Moving the hub here could provide a more centralized focus for transit, substantially reduce in-town bus traffic, dramatically cut carbon emissions and offer a more welcoming, informative and intermodal transit experience than Rubey Park.
The Galena Plaza design concept is worth studying because of its whole systems approach and potential advantages. "We realize it needs to be able to withstand criticism," expressed the designer. "Preferably that criticism ought to take place before the city spends $4 million to $5 million on a Rubey Park redesign."
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The Galena Plaza proposal opens numerous mobility options by using the circular plaza as the central transit hub for bus rapid transit, in-town shuttles and bicycles (both bikeshareing and bike storage for downvalley commuters). Hotel shuttles, taxis and car sharing could take advantage of the multiple levels in the existing parking structure of the city's Rio Grande Parking Garage, providing design opportunities for quick and easy multi-modal transit links.
Since it is obvious that most Aspen commuter bus riders prefer stops on Main Street to Rubey Park, the Galena Plaza hub would become a more convenient terminus for most of the Roaring Fork Transportation Agency's regular bus passengers. In a single year, this could save literally tens of thousands of bus trips through residential and commercial streets, markedly reducing carbon emissions, PM-10 pollution and noise. It also would make streets safer and friendlier for pedestrians.
The Galena Plaza proposal would require flexibility by the city and county on certain office and facility relocations, but when looking at carbon savings alone, it may well be worth it. This new hub, and the carbon reductions it signifies, fits the mission of the city's Canary Initiative with quantifiable results.
Under this proposal, the current Youth Center building would morph into a new bus depot, converting it into a comfortable transit center with a significantly more welcoming atmosphere, including a coffee/sandwich shop, spacious waiting areas, computer terminals, Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and Aspen Chamber Resort Association information kiosks, storage lockers, and convenient access to the library. Ample bus parking spaces could be created, possibly below grade, where the jail is located currently.
If Aspen is still a town that welcomes innovative, out-of-the-box thinking, this whole systems approach at Galena Plaza deserves consideration before opportunities are lost to address the limitations of Rubey Park. If not, then the negative aspects of the current hub may show themselves in the future and Aspen will be burdened with insufficient bus parking, congested streets, more pollution and carbon emissions, and a less-than-ideal transit system.
"Aspen wants to be different? Better?" asks Action Radius Research/Design. "Then the Galena Plaza option should be studied just like Rubey Park was studied to make sure the city gets off on the right foot. Both public transit and the community may benefit if City Council rethinks this before they build."
Given the advances RFTA has just launched with its bus-rapid-transit system, the timing seems right for an overhaul of Aspen's overall transit design. A shift from Rubey Park to Galena Plaza in two or three years may position Aspen as a visionary transit model. It's worth considering.
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