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Aspen punishes itself with parking wars

Addison Gardner
Aspen, CO Colorado

It’s Monday morning at oh-dark-30 in the Roaring Fork corridor.

Aspen’s streets are draped in the black crepe of early dawn, but downvalley’s caffeinated undead already are pulsing through the S-curves trailing a red anaconda of taillights back to I-70 and beyond.

It’s the beginning of a new workweek, and we commuters know the drill.



From hiked parking fees, to the clandestine recording of license plates, to the hire of more parking police, to the brass-knuckle punch of meters into neighborhoods, to Mick’s latest love child ” “a wireless toll road” ” the tightening noose of Aspen government conjures Orwell’s ode to totalitarianism.

City Council delivers its anti-auto message with the subtlety of a baseball bat to the braincase. Ride the bus. Cars clutter. Carbon dioxide emissions kill. Commerce is a pestilence. Commuters are the problem.




Ben Franklin’s “Poor Richard” instructed us to moderate our impulses, but City Council’s grim vendetta is immoderate; it’s reminiscent of television’s animated Raid can: “Council kills cars dead!”

We commuters are more than our cars, but we’re also inseparable from our cars. If you kill cars ” for the time being, anyway ” you kill commerce, and you cripple Aspen.

While the plan to exterminate motor vehicles might seem like a masterstroke for councilmen who pedal to work (and live in public housing), it’s a certified pain in the ass for those of us who’ve been overlooked by the lottery gods.

There’s a new YouTube video making the e-mail rounds. It features a yellow Labrador retriever resting on a couch. He’s chewing his bone, when he notices an approaching threat in the periphery of his vision. The threat is his own hind foot, and it seems to be stalking his bone like a rabid rodent. What ensues is a disturbingly ferocious battle between the dog and his foot.

This tragicomedy has us laughing, hard, but we’re also concerned about the dog’s tangled synapses ” not to mention the wiring of the idiot who’s videotaping the dog’s misery for our entertainment.

Can we be honest, for once, and recognize the destructive similarities between our behavior and the dog’s? Can we just admit that the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) isn’t the antidote for everything from acne to the Zodiac killer? Can we concede that ” for now ” there simply aren’t enough buses or seats? Can we begin by agreeing that Aspen needs its downvalley workforce and that Mayor Mick is menacing his own foot?

As history buffs, we’ve read that traffic and congestion were far worse in 1893, during the era of Aspen’s greatest prosperity. Townsfolk coexisted happily ” were rich, fat and sassy, in fact ” despite the unknown (at the time) evils of land speculation and development.

Back then, almost 13,000 Aspenites navigated a rutted-mud Main Street and double-parked our horse-drawn buggies. We had six newspapers, a multi-story hospital, two theaters, an opera house and a bustling red-light district. We took horse pollution in stride, and bathtubs were a novelty.

Even without parking police, 1880s Victorian Aspen was a great center of western commerce and culture. Miners and merchants triple-parked in front of the opera house and the whorehouse. The madam, the assayer and the barkeep did the only metering in town, and they collected payment from grinning patrons.

If J.D. Hooper (Aspen’s mayor in 1884) had suggested chalking buggy rims or policing where folks parked, he’d have been run out of town in a tar-dipped chicken suit.

Fortunately, Mayor Hooper was busy fighting the fire that began in the carpenter shop on Durant Street (carpenters were considered an asset back then) and salvaging his home’s cast iron bathtub. His Durant house burned to the ground. So did Maggie Webber’s 10-room house and Dick Taggert’s cabin. McKinney’s new saloon across the street was spared, so Aspen was consoled.

While Mayor Hooper was supervising the rebuilding of Durant Street, the townsfolk prospered in benign neglect.

Aspen was noisy and messy, and crowded and prosperous. This was before “speculators” was a dirty word, and wealthy entrepreneurs financed the building of libraries, hotels, schools, hospitals and theaters. Buildings went up, fell down, burned and were rebuilt. Victorians were tough-minded, independent and industrious. Neighbors tended to their own knitting, and Aspen was a thriving, vibrant testament to individual initiative.

Unlike J.D. Hooper, Mayor Ireland has a lot of time on his hands, and it seems as if it’s spent monitoring his neighbors. He monitors their houses. He monitors their cars. When he’s not monitoring these things, he’s encouraging coalitions of neighbors to monitor each other.

From the perspective of a commuter who loves Aspen, I wish Mick and his fellow councilmen would learn to differentiate between “the possible” and “the present.” At present, we don’t have an adequate pubic transit system. We don’t have adequate worker housing. And we don’t have unlimited patience with being treated like bell-ringing lepers.

Don’t punish us for driving to Aspen, until you can transport us. Don’t penalize us for parking, until you can house us. Let us build the housing we need, first ” without raising taxes on our building materials and making the phrase “affordable housing” ring hollow.

And stop snarling at us. That’s your foot you see approaching.