I’m not crazy – I’m a commuter | AspenTimes.com

I’m not crazy – I’m a commuter

Roger Marolt

It was interesting to read in the other newspaper last week that we are all completely out of our minds. Right there in plain black and yellow, the Aspen Daily News told us that, contrary to popular sentiment around town, traffic this summer is pretty normal. They used CDOT daily traffic counts across the Castle Creek Bridge to prove it. Now, I know that, if traffic flowed like water, any plumber mired in the muck could come to a definitive conclusion on this. But, since drivers are like water molecules with brains, hydrodynamic theory goes down the drain and our commute defies logic. It’s possible that our own collective intellect may be the inexplicable cause for slower commutes this year.However, working at a newspaper where we are paid to think before sitting down in front of a Corona (a typewriter made between 1910-40), I wasn’t prepared to simply accept that theory. Instead, I tried to come up with a few alternative plausible explanations for the disparity in what the mundane traffic counts across Castle Creek Bridge and the rush hour knot in my ulcerating esophagus are telling me.First of all, the traffic counters may be inaccurate. I remember when I was a kid, they strung one of those black hoses across our street to count the traffic. Of course we were curious and spent the better part of one afternoon examining it. Every time a car drove across the contraption a little counter at one end would roll up another number like an odometer. Naturally we wondered how much pressure it required to turn the meter. Would a bike racing over the hose do it? Nope. The go-cart? Nope. A good hard jump with both feet? Nope. How about a whack with an old framing hammer found at the construction site across the way? Yep, that worked like a charm! To make a long story short, in our never-ending fight against tedium, we spent some time over the ensuing weeks seeing how many numbers we could register on the meter. It was like a carnival game. Maybe it was a coincidence, but you can only imagine how surprised our parents and neighbors where when the city paved the street through our five-house subdivision the next summer. Heck, I imagine everyone in town was surprised, except for the consultant who confidently presented his numbers to the streets department.Kids are so advanced and sophisticated these days, it would be no surprise to me that they have figured out a way to roll back a traffic counter! Or, I wonder if anyone from the other paper envisioned a different way in or out of town besides traveling over the Castle Creek bridge. It’s hardly a well-kept secret that, when westbound traffic on Main Street is backed up all the way to the courthouse, the fastest way out of town is under the bridge to Cemetery Lane and on to McLain Flats Road. Doing the West End weave feels a little naughty, but getting away with it and saving some commuting time to boot quickly emboldens most drivers. One note of caution: if you are playing the “out-of-state license plate game,” that’s not the route to choose. It is a veritable who’s who of locals impatiently alternating through the four-way stops. Another theory is that the roundabout is actually a traffic impediment. Sure, we were all propagandized into agreeing that it was a smashing success shortly after it was completed in the fall of 1999, but the truth is that there weren’t many people around for the next five years to really test it. Propelled by the Y2K-induced hot air, the burst of the tech bubble seemed to blow a good number of visitors, construction projects, moisture-laden weather systems, and most of our traffic problems out of here, until recently. Like a low-interest-rate credit card, the roundabout seems to only work when we don’t need it.Then again, I wonder if anyone has considered that the increased traffic delays are due to the bigger cars we are driving these days? Sure, go ahead and laugh, but during the ’90s many local yuppies were driving around in BMWs and Mercedes sedans. Saabs were prevalent, and the four-wheel drive crowd drove a lot of Jeeps.Now it seems we all have Suburbans, Hummers, and Audi wagons. There’s little doubt that our cars are longer now. For example, a Suburban is at least six feet longer than a Jeep CJ-5. An Audi wagon is a couple of feet longer than a Saab sedan. A Hummer appears to be about a hundred times longer than its owner’s … well, never mind. For discussion sake, let’s just say that the average car in the valley today is about two feet longer than the average Highway 82 cruiser of the mid-’90s. Multiply two feet by the 28,000 cars that are expected to travel in and out of Aspen on an average day this month. In bumper-to-bumper traffic, that’s 56,000 feet, or 10.6 miles, of additional automobile that has to make it through our bottlenecks each day. At an average speed of 5 mph. through these sections, it takes about two hours of drive time to get this extra steel through town. Spread out over a 10-hour effective day of commerce, that results in an average increased commute time of 20 percent! If you compress a bigger chunk of this metal into the rush hours, the effect is even larger. Lastly, maybe aliens are causing our traffic problems this summer. I don’t know! And it doesn’t really matter because we’re not willing to do anything to change it during our lifetimes. I accept that. But please, do not insinuate that these traffic problems are all in my imagination.It’s important that everyone understands this because when you see me stuck on Main Street talking to myself, pounding my fists on the dash and head on the steering wheel, pulling my hair out by the fistful, screaming at trucks, blaring my horn at old ladies crossing the street, cutting off buses trying to merge, blocking cars illegally using the HOV lanes, and flipping you the bird multiple times, I simply want you to understand one thing:I am not crazy! Roger Marolt is looking forward to a seamless transition from our summertime traffic problems to our school-year traffic problems. He’s stuck at roger@maroltllp.com

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