Social suicide over transit
Editor’s note: Brent Gardner-Smith, executive director of KAJX and a former Aspen Times reporter, is filling in for Andy Stone this week, and will occasionally contribute his column, “Aspen Journal,” to this space.Want to spoil a perfectly good dinner party? Announce that it is imperative that Aspen build a dedicated transit way between the roundabout and Main Street so that either buses or light rail can run in and out of the town’s bottleneck without getting mired in mixed traffic. It will lead to several opportunities to alienate close friends and relatives. First of all, it may brand you as someone willing to pave over a portion of the Sacred Meadow between the roundabout and Main Street, which is a flat-out rejection of the values that once made Aspen such a cool place to live (before you got here). Or it may brand you as someone who is willing to alienate The Opponents to Any Option, who are quite good at getting voters to “just say no to transit” and at making well-meaning politicians somehow appear both evil and incompetent. Or as someone willing to tempt the Four-Lane Boogie Man, who still lurks at the edge of town.On a brighter note, bringing up a dedicated transit way can lead to a discussion about how if you improve the convenience and comfort of mass transit, it can induce more drivers to leave their cars at home, or in a park-and-ride lot, and thus help other drivers get to or from town faster. But that frequently leads to a remark about “all those empty buses” and whether it makes sense for a community to subsidize mass transit so that illegal immigrants can get to work.The Sacred Meadow issue is the alienating crux, however. You can try to explain that while the Marolt/Thomas parcel that lies between the roundabout and Main Street is indeed city open space, Aspen voters could choose to use a portion of that open space for other purposes, such as the employee housing at the Marolt Ranch, the Holden/Marolt Ranching and Mining Museum, or the sheds that city workers use to store public works stuff. And you can point out that in 1996 Aspen voters did say “yes” to use a portion of that open space for two lanes of traffic and light rail. And that the citizens of Aspen could start tomorrow to build two lanes and light rail to solve their transit problem. But that brings up light rail, which is an especially effective way to alienate people. Listen for “It will never happen” or “It is too expensive” or “It’s absurd to just build it to the airport.” You can try countering with “It has worked in other communities” and, “Surely this town, of all towns, can come up with the 75 or 80 million dollars necessary to build light rail” or, “The airport is where riders on regional buses change modes, which keeps the downvalley diesel buses from sweeping through Aspen in five-bus convoys.” But at that point, you are pretty much social toast, anyway.Some left in the room might (hah!) agree that the best option now facing Aspenites is to keep the existing traffic on the S-curves and to run a small two-lane dedicated bus way over a new two-lane-only Castle Creek bridge and on to Main Street. But the very last guest at the table, who is probably a land use planner, will remind you that the “keep-the-S-curves,-put-transit-across-Marolt option was rejected in the last environmental study. And that, besides, it still involves bulldozers on the Sacred Meadow.All of which suggests that resigning yourself to a permanent traffic jam in and out of Aspen is the town’s new level of social acceptability. At that point, if it was a fancy dinner party, your best bet is to go hang out in the kitchen with the catering help. To help prepare for your next evening of social suicide, ask the kitchen workers how often they ride the bus. And then ask them, “Is it frustrating to never know whether the trip to Aspen is going to take 45 minutes, or an hour and a half, because the buses have to run in mixed traffic?”They, at least, might still be willing to talk with you. Brent Gardner-Smith accepts comments from other social rejects at email@example.com.
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