Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw | AspenTimes.com
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Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw

Andy Stone
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

So, is everyone glad we don’t have a train?

As gas in Aspen busts through the $5-a-gallon level ” and prices downvalley look certain to follow ” are we all overjoyed we don’t have a train?

As people all over America finally ” finally! ” start to realize that the future will not ” cannot ” be tied to unlimited use of oil, are we really, truly delighted we haven’t led the way?

Are we happy to point to our full highways and empty wallets, and say, “Ready for the future? No, sir, not us!”

And as people from all over the world come to Aspen, are we tickled pink that they have to stumble through a jumble of orange cones and construction barriers, unavoidable evidence of our failed attempts to cling to the “freedom” of our gas-burning past?

Are we all just plain joyful that no one can point to Aspen as an intelligent community that is looking to the future with a clear vision?

Um … lemme think.

Nope. I bet we’re not happy, we’re not glad, we’re not delighted, and we’re not tickled pink.

I’ll bet even the staunchest train-haters have retreated to the depths of their cages to brood in sullen silence. Who knows, maybe they’ve even stopped flinging feces at anyone who suggests that pavement and petroleum aren’t the answer to every question.

Sorry, folks, but we really blew it.

There was a time ” and it’s now too damn many years ago ” when we had a local government that was committed to building a train in this valley to carry workers and visitors in and out of Aspen, smoothly and efficiently. That local government had lined up support for the train from the federal government. A major corporation that builds rail systems was saying it was willing to pay most ” maybe all ” of the cost of putting a train into this valley.

And then a clever, ruthless and deeply dishonest political campaign convinced (maybe “tricked” would be a better word) voters to reject that plan.

And here we are.

Public transportation is finally having its shining moment, and we here in the Roaring Fork Valley are dismally sucking diesel fumes.

Ain’t we clever.

No, we’re not.

I’ve been reading letters to the editor from people who insist that we can still have a rail system in the valley. They say it’s not too late, we can still make it work.

I hope they’re right, but I suspect they’re wrong. The money’s not there any more. The state’s broke. The feds are broke. It’s hard to imagine the train company would come back and offer to build the system again.

And, in our ineffable wisdom (actually, that “wisdom” was distinctly effable. In fact, it was totally effed), we went and tore up many miles of existing rails and sold them for scrap metal. Just for fun, I guess.

I bet the feces-flinging rail-haters had a big party in their cage when that happened.

And I saw where the RFTA people are busy praising their nifty plans for a “Bus Rapid Transit” system. “Bus Rapid Transit.” Is that an oxymoron, like “jumbo shrimp” or “military intelligence”? Or is it the initials “BRT” we should focus on? That’s the sound a bratty little kid makes when he sticks out his tongue at you: BRRRRRT!

No matter, they say that BRT (motto: “We’re the ‘BRaT’ in your bratwurst”) will really help us get a rail system.

Sure, it’ll help. Just the way tearing up the rails will help. (More cheers from the feces flingers.) Just the way it helped my high school romance when my girlfriend invited someone else to the prom.

Nope, I think we’re stuck with the highway. And that means we’re stuck with a problem that’s not going to be solved.

Let me repeat that: We’re stuck with a problem that’s not going to be solved.

There really is no good solution to getting all those cars and trucks and buses in and out of this town in a smooth, dignified, nonpolluting fashion. Just like there’s no way to get 10 pounds of stuff in a five-pound bag. Hint: Stretching the opening at the top of the bag will not help. Really. And even if it did, you’d still wind up with a bag of, you know, stuff.

I saw a letter to the editor the other day from someone telling us how his preteen daughter had looked out the window of their car and explained exactly how to solve Aspen’s highway traffic jam. It reminded me of someone who looks at abstract art in the museum and says, “My 5-year-old could do that.” Sure, sure, I know, in the venerable fable it took an “innocent child” to point out that the emperor didn’t have a new suit of clothes but was actually parading through town butt naked.

So, fine, we’ll let the kids evaluate the royal wardrobe (“the crown and epaulets are fine, but the diaper’s a bit tight in the crotch”). But if you think your kid knows enough to plan our highways, why don’t you demonstrate your faith in him by letting him drive your car for awhile first? Here’s the deal: You let your 9-year-old drive your SUV from Glenwood to Aspen every day this winter, and then I’ll chat with him about highway design. Fair enough?

Anyone who tells you that the answer to the Entrance to Aspen is easy is either an idiot or a liar. Or, perhaps, someone who considers cattle prods a good solution to getting more people onto an already-crowded bus.

The problem isn’t the highway design. The problem is too damn many cars, trucks and buses. The answer is to get a lot of them off the highway.

A train would have been good. Especially in this era of $5 gasoline, when everyone is realizing that we have to find new ways to solve transportation problems. Especially when we are realizing that we have to break our addiction to oil. Especially when so much of that money is going to people who want to blow us up. Especially when people want to reward communities that have shown their intelligence by planning ahead.

Oh, yeah. I bet you’re glad we don’t have a train. I just bet.


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