Solution: Don’t stop the traffic
Aspen, CO Colorado
As a former traffic engineering consultant (Sydney, Australia) and having watched the Aspen situation for 40 years, I respectfully offer the following proposal. The objective is:
Traffic lights. Their inherent nature is to plug up traffic. They cause the “caterpillar” or telescoping effect, where traffic moves along like a dysfunctional slinky with an average flow of less than 10 vehicles a minute. Without traffic lights this flow can be 40 per minute. Remember that this is the maximum capacity on Main Street, more would be chaotic and dangerous. As long as there are traffic lights there will always be congestion regardless of what else is done (straight shots, etc.) Traffic circles are the optimum solution and inevitable but they take time to prepare properly. Sell the lights to a town that has no alternative. Apply the cash toward the next steps cited below.
In Aspen, the essential priority must be activated now before the ski season. The solution can be made fully operational within a few days and can solve the traffic congestion problem for little cost by simply rearranging the existing resources.
This is it!
Traffic must never be stopped means applying the following virtually instant and cost-free solutions.
1) Unplug ALL the traffic lights between Harmony and Cemetery Lanes, 24/7.
2) All left turns onto and off Highway 82 must be blocked, preferably 24/7.
The alternatives are simple: The obligation is to turn right onto 82 and return in your desired direction via the traffic circle, or the Stage Road-Tiehack underpass, or the airport via Frontage Road.
Harmony Lane traffic should have Aspen access via Stage Road and the underpass. Left turns off 82 onto Cemetery Lane or Eighth Street are an exception where they must wait for a gap to turn. There’s always someone gabbing on the phone or distracted, a lumbering truck and the occasional courteous driver. No left turn on Seventh.
No intersecting access from Seventh. The alternative, as taxis do, is to drive on a few blocks and turn back.
Right turners onto Cemetery Lane need to concede a bigger YIELD sign for left turning traffic off 82. All traffic must yield to buses and pedestrians. Pedestrians crossing 82 at Buttermilk for buses will need a foot path to the cycle underpass.
3) To enable a steady flow, both in-bound and out-bound, beginning at the airport and through the S-Curves and onto Main Street, the 25 mph speed limit must be respected. This will enable a steady flow of 30 to 40 vehicles per minute. Better to drive a steady 25 mph all the way into town than to speed up to 25 mph traffic and be stopped for “caterpillaring” as if there still were traffic lights. By math, it takes less than three minutes longer to drive at 25 mph from the airport to Main Street than 40 mph, if the latter were possible and not blocked by full capacity on Main.
Making these changes 24/7 will relieve congestion immediately and we all will adapt happily when we realize the benefits. Extending the 25-mph zone also is a reminder that Main Street is a slow pedestrian zone with children, babies pushed in strollers, skiers hobbling in boots, etc. The Open Space and the S-Curves are brilliant for attenuating the frenetic rhythm and nerves of many drivers well before entering Main Street.
To create a smooth geometry for 20 to 25 mph flow through the S-Curves and the traffic circle.
A dedicated and straightened 25-mph outbound lane in the traffic-circle for through traffic to merge 100 feet before entry and merge again after exit with the Castle and Maroon traffic. That also is where the new bus lanes will open up.
The Castle/Maroon traffic circle geometry is too congested and slow for the existing traffic volume. To efficiently accommodate Castle/Maroon roads the design needs to be “elongated” into a longer smoother oval-shape with improved visibility.
Buttermilk/Owl Creek, Harmony Lane and the Inn at Aspen also need to share such a “traffic-oval.”
The bottom line is that this embarrassing traffic congestion sours everyone and our visitors. It must and can be solved now. It can all be fixed next week. It will soothe everyone’s nerves, reduce time on the road … and significantly reduce our collective carbon footprint.
This solution only really involves “traffic management” and using already existing control resources. No construction. No cost. No complaints. Just do it! We will all easily and happily adapt to the improvements.
This is of course an abstract. More explicit details are already prepared and available.
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Though many are fatigued from the pandemic, rules for health and safety must be followed even more closely as winter approaches.