Aspen’s global warming mess
(Editor’s note: Regular Thursday columnist Andy Stone is on vacation. Brent Gardner-Smith, KAJX executive director and a former Aspen Times reporter, is filling in for the next three weeks.)Sometimes the news in Aspen overlaps in intriguing ways. For example, this week the Aspen City Council voted to spend $120,000 on a study to find Aspen’s biggest sources of local emissions that fuel global warming.And also this week, construction began on the new Maroon Creek Bridge, which will include a platform wide enough for four lanes, although it will be configured to only serve two lanes of mixed traffic.The juxtaposition of these two events points directly to Aspen’s inability to make a decision regarding how it wants to handle mass transit in and out of the community.Aspen is now the host of a regional traffic jam each weekday morning and weekday afternoon. In the morning, the Buttermilk Merge is the spot where Highway 82 merges from two upvalley lanes to one. In the afternoon, the traffic merges slowly from two outbound lanes to one lane around the S-curves and then back into two downvalley lanes at Buttermilk. And so as the City seeks out the source of Aspen’s global warming initiatives, I doubt they will have to look too much further than the daily Global Warming Parade of cars and trucks to find one of the larger culprits.And because the elected officials and citizens of Aspen have decided not to proactively and purposefully discuss its transit options over the past two years – essentially some configuration of either light rail or buses on a dedicated transit way – the community is going to miss out on a great opportunity with the new bridge to improve the flow of transit in and out town and reduce our daily contribution to global warming.But because we as a community have not said “yes” to either bus lanes or light rail, the feds say we have to use the new bridge as a two-lane bridge with a “removable” median in the middle (put there to purposely decrease the functionality of the bridge) until we make a call on the transit system we want between the roundabout and Main Street. The federal and state officials are essentially saying: “Hey Aspen, we gave you two good options – light rail or dedicated bus lanes – and you couldn’t find a way to say ‘yes’ to either of them. And now the environmental clearance that we gave you needs to be re-evaluated and we’re not sure we want to spend more of the taxpayers money taking a fresh look at the science and the facts just so you can find a way to say ‘no’ to transit again. In the meantime, today’s bus riders lose as they will be forced to crawl across the new bridge in traffic instead of getting a break on the way in and out of town.”Now, Aspen’s workday Global Warming Parade could indeed be lessened if the voters of Aspen would bravely accept that they must stop dithering with slight improvements to the S-curves and approve some sort of dedicated mass transitway in and out of Aspen. Try this mantra while you wait in traffic to get in or out of Aspen this summer: “There is an environmentally-sound, aesthetically-pleasing, efficient mass transit solution to the Entrance to Aspen that Aspen voters will approve and that we as a region can afford.”We just have to keep working to find out what precisely that solution is. But it can be found. The hurdles are not physical, technological or economic. The biggest hurdle is Aspen being smug about the environment and global warming while at the same time tolerating the Global Warming Parade. It is time to ask if the Friends of Marolt can sit down with the much-needed Friends of Clean Air and the missing Friends of Efficient Mass Transit to find a compromise that works. Can they find any form of a dedicated transitway that will work and that Aspen voters will approve?We should find out. Sooner would be better, but if it takes 10 elections to get Aspen voters to finally say “yes” to something we can build on a dedicated transit way, so be it. But let’s start today.Because we’re now building a new and expensive bridge that won’t help the regional transit system in the least. And we’re tolerating a huge traffic jam while we look for our sources of global warming emissions, all because we can’t figure out a transit solution to the last half-mile of the Entrance to Aspen.Didn’t you once expect more from Aspen, Colorado? Brent Gardner-Smith lives in Basalt and usually drives to work in his VW. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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