A sobering mark for Aspen traffic | AspenTimes.com

A sobering mark for Aspen traffic

Paul Andersen

Aspen set a new traffic record on July 3. More cars were driven to and from Aspen in a single day than ever before – one thousand more than last year.

That’s good news for commercial interests that stand to profit on sheer volume, but it makes you wonder if sheer volume is something to cheer or a bellwether for traffic problems.

Traffic problems in Aspen? Too late. We already have air pollution, congestion, road rage and parking angst. When a record number of cars crosses the Castle Creek bridge in one day (32,439 vehicles to be exact), it stands to reason that things will get worse.

So how bad can it get? Ponder that question the next time you’re stuck in a traffic jam. Despite a valleywide bus service that now reaches Rifle, more cars are being driven into Aspen than ever before.

The record traffic count this year shows that Aspen is still a favored destination, which is more good news for the commercial sector. The growth of tourism means stronger retail and lodging sectors, plus a boost in sales tax receipts, which are vital to the financial health of local governments and their employees.

If you’re an optimist about growth, you say “The more, the merrier!” Still, the growth of traffic has a ripple effect that isn’t merry at all if you appreciate peace, serenity and a rural ambiance in this valley, which is fast disappearing.

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The more cars moving to and from Aspen, the greater the impact – more pavement, more parking, more noise, more dependence on foreign oil, more particulate air pollution and more stress.

The four-laning of Highway 82 is part of that picture. By expanding the swath of asphalt bisecting the Roaring Fork Valley, even higher traffic volumes will be possible in the future. Should we cheer? Not before looking at the ripple effects.

Last year the Rio Grand Trail was graded and topped with crushed fine gravel. Long sections were paved. “They ruined the trail,” complained one biker friend who disdains the gentrification of the Rio Grande into a suburban pathway.

But only curmudgeons and malcontents contest the sacred notion of “progress.” Highway 82 doubles in size and bikes roll on pavement instead of dirt. It’s called urbanization, and it’s spreading.

Riding my mountain bike up Express Creek to Taylor Pass recently, I was passed by at least 30 dirt bikes, most of which roared by at breakneck speed. We now have a motorized theme park ambiance in the great outdoors where power toys rule and the rest of us just have to cope.

Dirt-bike terrain elsewhere has been routinely curtailed by the Forest Service due to conflicts with other, more sensitive users. As a result, dirt bikes and ATVs are concentrating in the Taylor Pass/Richmond Ridge/Pearl Pass area.

On any given weekend, the throb of two-cycle engines fills the air as dirt bikers and ATVs rip over rocky roads and entrench braided trails. Dirt bikes and ATVs are doing to the high country what jet skis have done to waterways and snowmobiles have done to Yellowstone. It’s called desecration.

Never mind the sensitivity issues of noise and air pollution. This argument holds no weight with participants in manly, motorized sports who have yet to hear of global warming or realize our dependence on Middle East oil. Power toys are intrinsically American.

It is no wonder U.S. foreign policy is leaning toward an attack on Iraq. We want their oil for our recreational fun and we’ll do anything to get it, even if it means sending our children into battle for a fossil fuel crusade to the vaunted SUV.

New traffic records over the Castle Creek bridge, four-laning Highway 82 (and squandering $65 million on the highway entrance to Aspen), paving the Rio Grande bike trail, the concentrated roar of dirt bikes in the high country all point toward rampant vehicular growth and a deep addiction to oil.

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