Roger Marolt: Roger This |

Roger Marolt: Roger This

Roger Marolt
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Sometimes I wonder about this town. What must a visitor to Aspen think when he picks up the daily newspaper and sees the two confused headlines: “County caps access to child care assistance program” and “Bike-sharing program gets $35K from city”?

In the first story, the Pitkin County commissioners capped funding of childcare programs for low-income families due to rising demand. In the second, Aspen City Council signed off on a $35,000 grant to underwrite the building of a kiosk in front of the Christian Dior boutique where tourists can rent bikes to putter around on.

It’s about priorities. Why should local government be expected to subsidize daycare? If parents really want their children learning and socializing by the age of three or four, they will find a way to pay for it. If they don’t care, they can wait until kindergarten when it is provided by the public school system.

If parents demanding childcare assistance would adopt a larger world-view, they might gain valuable perspective. The sad fact is that while every child gets to attend school by age five not everyone in Aspen can afford a bicycle. The ones who can spend every last penny they make to buy decent carbon-framed bikes so they can respectably compete in the local bike racing series or avoid embarrassment while training on Maroon Creek Road. Getting woven into the Aspen fabric, as moisture-wicking and synthetic as it may be, is not cheap.

Locals don’t want to ride their $5,000 investments around town and we shouldn’t expect them to. The risk of theft is too great. Our own mayor learned this the hard way. So, where does that leave cyclists? Their only alternative is to bar-hop on foot.

Aspen is a ski town in the winter and a cycling town by summer. That’s what makes this place cool, and cool is what puts heads on our beds. Bicycling in Aspen isn’t just a way of life, it is part of the way we make our livings. Can we say the same thing about daycare? No. Playing with blocks and finger painting doesn’t put groceries on the table. If daycare was cool I presume Lance Armstrong would have his kids in it.

If you are still not convinced that our community should be investing in bicycles instead of childcare, think of our planet. It’s coughing the death rattle. Mother Nature’s mandate is that we act to change this immediately. Our children’s lives, not just their social development, depend on it.

Will toddlers be able to save themselves from the horrors of global warming while they are sipping milk and munching graham crackers? It’s doubtful. We signed on to protect them when we chose to bring them into this unforgiving world.

There is proof that one of the best ways to reverse global warming is to ride bicycles. Would Aspen and Pitkin County have invested millions of dollars to pave hundreds of miles of bike paths and been so committed to make driving a car the greater pain in the butt if there wasn’t? Bicycles don’t pollute! They don’t leave carbon footprints. They leave tire tracks and occasional skid marks, which are easily washed away by gentle, cleansing thunder showers.

Some doubters say that the new city-sponsored bicycle rental program will only take customers away from existing bike shops and that it won’t do anything to get people out of their cars. To that I can only say, so what?

Maybe using this small-town bike program to combat global warming is analogous to moving Aspen Mountain into the sea one pebble at a time, but we have to do something. If it would take a trillion years to dispose of Aspen Mountain in this manner, at least we are not standing idly by, watching it being slowly eroded by nature. We are the Aspen of the world! If we provided example to another thousand towns and they joined us, we could move Aspen Mountain in only a billion years … or less! We can make similar gains against global warming by enabling tourists to dally around our town on taxpayer subsidized rental bikes.

About the only way I see that we should consider raising additional funding for childcare is if the parents use the programs to watch their kids so that they can go for bike rides. But, they aren’t. Most parents drop the kids off and head to work. Work means consuming fossil fuels. Consuming fossil fuels means destroying the atmosphere. Therefore, work means destroying the atmosphere.

In the end, it doesn’t take much imagination to see that a government-backed rental bike program will be better for our kids than affordable daycare for financially struggling families. Hurt locally, act globally. Nonetheless, I don’t believe our local governments slashed daycare funding and routed surplus cash to the bike program with that farsighted benefit in mind.

With demand growing for childcare assistance due to increasing economic hardships being suffered by more local families, the county recognized that there is no way to help everyone who needs it. It’s a losing proposition from the get go. As such, the only option they had was to cut the program back and trim the losses.

The city of Aspen, on the other hand, recognized that the bike-sharing program most likely will not become heavily used as an extension of the bus service provided by RFTA as projected, therefore they can easily satisfy all of the demand for this program which means it will be a complete success, and success is cool. Right?

But, it is not for us to quibble about how the allocation was arrived at. Tax dollars ended up in the right place. By this example there is an increased chance that our children will become avid cyclists, too.

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