Toasted with (traffic) jam
I got to drive out of town right at 5 o’clock “rush hour” on Tuesday this week.Since it’s offseason, of course, traffic was relatively light. Since Main Street is under construction, of course, I got stuck in a traffic jam.With the outbound lanes shut down through the S-curves and traffic detoured through the West End, it wasn’t much of a traffic jam, as Main Street rush-hour traffic jams go. It took me only about 15 minutes to get from the Jerome to Cemetery Lane. But it was still a vivid reminder of Aspen’s unsolved traffic problem.And, while state highway crews are tearing up the pavement in the S-curves – which is the reason for the detour – Aspen crews are doing some repainting on Main Street to create a rush-hour bus lane where there is now curbside parking.The idea is to scoot RFTA buses to the front of the line during the afternoon traffic jams. Sadly, their advantage will be brief, since the new bus lane will end at the S-curves, leaving the buses to elbow their way back into traffic and sink into the morass with everyone else.It has all the earmarks of one of those tragically inadequate efforts that will make almost everyone very angry while not really helping anyone very much at all.Swell.Then, curiously, I got another rush-hour experience farther downvalley, at the main Basalt traffic light on the highway and then again at the lower Basalt light by the KOA.At both of these lights, traffic was so backed up that I had to wait through two full red-green cycles to get through the intersection. Stuck behind maybe 20 cars, I waited through the red light, watched the light turn green – and then made it only halfway to the intersection before the light turned red again. And even then, I think I barely made it through before the light turned red behind me.On a Tuesday afternoon in the middle of May. At Basalt. On a four-lane with turn lanes and bus lanes that make for damn near 10 lanes of pavement.What does that tell me? It tells me that, long term, in the high season not even an unrestricted straight-shot four-lane running right smack into the middle of Aspen is going to get the traffic moving smoothly.It tells me we need to do some serious thinking about Aspen’s car problem before it’s too late.The offseason has long been a convenient time to forget our problems.Yes, I know, it can get a little difficult to make ends meet when business slows down – but the trade-off is supposed to be a little bit of peace and quiet, uncrowded sidewalks, a chance to run into friends on a walk across town, a moment to catch our collective breath … and a couple of months to forget all those nasty problems that make us crazy the rest of the year.But this year, thanks to Main Street construction, we can’t forget about the S-curves. And, thanks I guess to the plain fact that there’s not really much of an offseason when it comes to traffic, we can’t escape highway backups even 15 miles downvalley.And, as a final reminder that we don’t have anything close to a real answer, we have the recent close call, when the City Council almost approved a hopelessly half-baked, misconceived plan to extend paid parking to the limits of its known universe.The point is, we have to keep working on it. We can’t forget about it until – oh, gosh! – we get slammed again in July. We have to actually try. We have to find answers, not the answers we want (which are the ones we always seem to find), but answers that will actually work.And we need to remember that there are no easy answers.Actually, to be clear, there are a lot of easy answers – they’re just all wrong.Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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