Creating congestion in a roundabout way | AspenTimes.com
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Creating congestion in a roundabout way

One of the only real advantages in being considered nuts is that you have nothing to lose in expressing an opinion. That, and people generally allow you the privacy of your own gondola cabin when heading up the mountain.With that preface, I am going to give you my radical and previously unexpressed solution to alleviate some local traffic congestion.Here it is in my own humble and well chosen words: Bulldoze the roundabout and re-install a traffic light in its place.I’m serious.The reason is simple: Our $6 million traffic circle on the outskirts of our town doesn’t work.The reason it doesn’t function well is that traffic circles always favor a flow of traffic that crosses (read: cuts off) another flow of traffic, irregardless of the volume of any particular competing flow of automobiles, busses, and trucks. It’s the law – congestion outside must yield to traffic already in the circle.It sounds confusing, but it’s not. For an example of how it doesn’t work, examine the morning rush hour in Aspen. The major traffic flow is made up of several thousand cars coming up the valley into town. There is also a much smaller flow of traffic from town heading to drop kids off at the schools, skiers at Highlands, and sausage-induced indigestion victims at the hospital. The problem is that the smaller flow heading up Maroon and Castle Creek roads gets priority over the inbound traffic from Highway 82.Think about that. Hundreds of cars have to slam on the brakes every time one car heads out to the schools. This happens approximately every 10 seconds each morning between 7:30-8:00 during the school year. This half-hour is when traffic on Highway 82 backs up to the airport and doesn’t recover until around 10:30 a.m. when all of the frazzled commuters finally arrive at work, eager to trade traffic for job stress.A similar situation is repeated between 3:30-5:00 p.m., when parents shuttle kids home down the valley from after-school penance, Ski Club, ball field activities, and whatever mischief they’re up to at the ARC. That not insignificant, but much smaller, flow of soccer moms and pops coming down Maroon Creek Road has the right of way over the horn-honking working throngs stacked way back past the good karma of the O2 yoga studio.To see the truth in this, note that, during the summer months when schools are out, traffic flows more smoothly despite the fact that there are significantly more cars on our roads then.Are you convinced? For those with impaired memory, for whatever reason(s), the first time this town experienced traffic backed up all the way to the airport was during the summer of 1999 when the roundabout was under construction. It was unprecedented! It has also been that way ever since. Prior to that time, traffic was rarely clogged up even to the clubhouse at the golf course. According to the Winter 2007 Entrance to Aspen report prepared jointly by the City of Aspen and Pitkin County, peak volume traffic counts have remained relatively stable here since 1994, so more cars are not the reason for our daily jam. I’m telling you, it’s the roundabout.Now then, if we are willing to spend just a few million dollars more to convert our roundabout mistake back into a signalized intersection, the new/old traffic light could be programmed to favor the huge commuter flow of traffic over the side trips to and from the school campus area. Further, this light could also be synchronized with the lights at Cemetery Lane and the golf course to smooth things out even more. (Roundabouts can’t be synchronized with anything.)That’s all the explanation you need to start an argument, maybe a fist fight, at a local bar tonight while you wait for traffic to die down before heading home. To fill the rest of this column, I plan to quote some local imaginaries who recognized the weaknesses of the roundabout from the beginning. Unfortunately, all of them were killed in a cowardly act by the editors of local newspapers after they spoke out, so we don’t have the opportunity to glean new insight from them today. The sad thing is that each was barely four years old. Their enduring words will have to suffice.Back in 1999, a crazy woman named Lee Anne Marlets, who was a vocal proponent of valley-wide rail, wrote a letter supporting the roundabout design saying, “If it takes a few roundabouts to make us realize how bad our traffic really is then I say build a dozen more.”It was her contention that local governments were constructing traffic circles with the purpose of bogging down traffic so much that voters would eventually have no choice but to vote for an ego-driven commuter train. Did I say she was crazy?Just after the roundabout was completed, a local visage named Ronald Aberwait noted the fatal flaw in the design of the interchange. His frustration boiled over when officials staged a contest soliciting ideas for decorating the new circular section of highway.”As I sat in traffic backed-up all the way to the Aspen Airport Business Center the other day, I had ample opportunity to think about the insipid contest to determine what should be put in the center of the roundabout.The people who thought up this ridiculous, light-hearted challenge appear to be quite pleased with how their project has turned out. I don’t share their sentiment. However, I will be a good sport and make an entry to by judged by these fools.The thing that they should put in the middle of the roundabout to enhance everybody’s experience is an underpass for vehicular access to Maroon and Castle Creek Roads.”Finally, a local man named Matt Jones may have described the roundabout best. In 1999, shortly before his untimely death, he wrote:”The roundabout works! In fact, if any business had an employee that worked as much as the roundabout I should think it would feel lucky. The roundabout works late at night and very early in the mornings. It does its job on weekends and through the off-seasons. It operates right through breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I will bet that it works 20 hours a day.Alas, I am sad to say that I may never get to see this engineering wonder function. I only go through it during the rush hours.”Roger Marolt believes that a roundabout is the perfect symbol for the Entrance to Aspen debate. Go around in circles with him at roger@maroltllp.com


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