Transit woes will only get worse
(This was originally sent to Aspen City Council and the Pitkin County commissioners.)Sitting still on Main Street recently, I had ample time to reflect on the voluminous traffic and lack of parking we have in our town. How did we get here? After countless failed attempts to come up with a community-supported solution on the Entrance to Aspen, we are now paying the price for our inaction. There is no question that residential growth valleywide has fueled this traffic debacle. However, in my view, the Aspen City Council has provided the coup de grace in their recent transformation to a pro-growth government. Perhaps this behavior will be the catalyst our community needs. It is amazing to see how far the pendulum has swung in the last 30 years, from anti-growth, to no-growth, to limited-growth, to pro-growth. In the city’s desire to revitalize the core, they have provided a host of incentives to developers including greatly increased floor area and reduced cost of mitigation, while essentially throwing out growth management controls. There have been dramatic changes in the city’s land use code instituted during the last 12-18 months that will radically transform the character of our town.Not that all of this change is bad; some change in the core was certainly needed. What is inexcusable, however, is the city’s failure to adequately consider the off-site impacts associated with their decisions. The amount of new development and redevelopment that has been or will be approved is staggering; it is unlike anything we have ever seen. With the lengthy list of projects already approved, or in the pipeline for approval, the traffic problems we have now will pale in comparison to what we will see commencing next summer, and continuing for the foreseeable future. In short, with the increase in construction-related vehicles, followed by an increase in employee traffic generated by these new developments, our traffic problem will be an even bigger nightmare than it is now. What can we do? Although other solutions may exist, there are two possibilities that I can see. First, there is of course the four-lane highway all the way into town, necessarily compromising the open space of the Marolt property to some degree. Perhaps the cut-and-cover approach could be palatable. The four-lane approach may still be the best solution to our traffic woes, if the community could ever come to consensus.A second possibility, albeit one that is painful, is an intercept lot at Buttermilk or the airport, and mandatory public transport into town, be it bus, rail or a combination of both. Perhaps we can learn something from Zermatt’s experience. If you want, or must drive from the intercept lot, that can be accommodated with a toll road. Fees from the toll road can be used to help offset the cost of the necessary public transportation. Another improvement would be elimination of the traffic signal at Cemetery Lane, and a new roundabout there. Parking, too, is out of control, and will only get worse. The city certainly hasn’t helped in their reduction of the parking mitigation required for new development. We need more public underground parking somewhere in town, be it beneath Paepcke Park or Wagner Park, or somewhere else, possibly the U.S. Forest Service property on Seventh Street. I am not fully versed in the cost or funding possibilities for these alternatives. What I know with certainty is that we need to do something. Change will not happen over night, but if we begin now, hopefully in three to five years we can begin to implement the necessary changes. And critical to the process is the need to orchestrate a binding decision among Pitkin County and city voters as to what alternative we can afford and will wholeheartedly pursue. Our continuing failure to address these core issues of traffic and parking will most certainly serve to ruin the beauty and magic of this place we call home. Randy Gold is a longtime Aspen resident.
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