Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
Aspen, CO Colorado
One of my favorite quotations is attributed to physicist Niels Bohr, who said, “Man can predict anything. Except, of course, the future.”
Bohr won the Nobel Prize, though not for, as in this case, elegantly stating the obvious. He came to mind when I read a pair of stories in The Aspen Times this week: overcrowding at the Aspen schools and the nasty mess at Basalt and Highway 82.
In both cases, our inability to predict the future is glaringly, painfully obvious.
Let’s start with the schools, where the problem is abecedarian (yes, that’s a real word).
The bad news is simple enough: Despite doubling the size of the high school about a decade ago and building a brand new middle school and expanding the elementary five years ago, all of Aspen’s schools are now overcrowded.
I don’t want to get tangled up in numbers – hundreds of students, millions of dollars – but all three schools have more students than they were ever intended to handle.
(A quick time-out to note that none of the excesses place the buildings above their safe fire capacity. The danger is to education, not life and limb.)
Meanwhile, no one has decided what to do about the problem.
It’s hard to imagine that, after the millions of dollars that have been spent on new and expanded schools, anyone wants to go to the voters for a tax to support another round of school construction.
Now, there is a good-news story hidden inside this bad news and it’s this: One of the reasons for the unexpected overcrowding is that new families have moved into the Aspen School District.
And that’s good news because one of the things many of us have mourned was Aspen’s loss of “real-town” vitality, as high real-estate prices pushed working families out of town. The increasing school enrollment would seem to represent a shift in that trend; real families with real kids are moving back into town.
And part of that good news represents the success of the effort to preserve Aspen’s vitality through the affordable-housing program.
But here’s the thing: That means that at least some of the increase in enrollment should have been predictable. It’s what we were aiming for.
Which gets me back to this simple question: What the heck were they thinking?
If they’d built all those new schools just a little bit larger – just in case, you know, Aspen grew a little bit – no one would be worrying about how to fit 10 pounds of students into a 5-pound sack.
I know, hindsight is 20-20, but does foresight have to always be 20-400?
Apparently – thank you, Professor Bohr – it does.
But the Aspen schools’ dilemma is nothing compared to the Basalt cluster-fuster.
Way back in the dim mists of time – 25 years ago – when Highway 82 was a meandering little two-lane blacktop road (a wildly overcrowded meandering two-lane road), it ran right through the middle of downtown Basalt.
Then they moved the highway out of town and bumped it up to four lanes. That was undoubtedly a fine idea, but then the highly educated and certified planners sabotaged their nifty new highway.
The first misstep on the Highway to Hell was the entire Entrance to Basalt – a cheap-o version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.
You get off the highway at a grand intersection, then – whiplash warning! – immediately careen through the roundabout and emerge heading downvalley for a few hundred yards. You charge through a badly designed intersection – with a stop sign that doesn’t apply to ninety percent of the traffic – and play dodge-em-cars with people backing out of the post office parking. Finally – whew! – you limp over the bridge and into downtown Basalt on Midland Avenue.
And almost the entire mess could have been avoided if they’d built the highway intersection where it belonged: about a quarter-mile downvalley, directly in line with Midland.
Gee, who could have expected that people getting off the highway at Basalt would want to go to, you know … Basalt?
But that stupidity was trumped by another one, as noted in The Aspen Times story.
That story details the Basalt Town Council’s effort to figure out how to give pedestrians a fighting chance of surviving the crossing of Highway 82.
The highway, of course, is heavily used (who could have expected that?) and very wide: four lanes of traffic, plus turn lanes, entrance lanes and exit lanes – seven paved lanes in all.
A lot of people need to cross because a lot of development has sprung up on the other side of the highway, an ever-growing roster of businesses and homes, plus a bus stop that is being vastly expanded.
And now there are plans for a “senior community” over there. Those grannies better get jet-propelled walkers if they’re going to make it across the highway before the light turns green and they wind up as hood ornaments on some cranky commuter’s pick-up truck.
And, as reported by the Times, here’s the kicker: When the Colorado Department of Transportation moved Highway 82 out of Basalt, “It wasn’t anticipated that the town would expand along the bypass.”
That’s like saying it wasn’t anticipated that the sun would rise in the east.
You create prime highway frontage property and you’re surprised that there’s development there?
As the fella says, “What color is the sky on your home planet?”
Niels Bohr won a Nobel Prize for his pioneering work on understanding the structure of the atom.
But even he might have been hard pressed to conceive of a particle as small as the brains of some the of the people who claim to be doing planning in this little valley of ours.
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“Many of these stoic commuters endure brain-numbing traffic jams so they can service vacant mega homes, making sure all the lights are on and that the snowmelt patios, driveways, sidewalks and dog runs are thoroughly heated so as to evaporate that bothersome white stuff that defines Aspen’s picturesque winter landscape and ski economy,“ writes Paul Andersen.