Elizabeth Milias: No green light at the virtue signal
The Red Ant
Aspen City Council used to proudly roll out its top 10 goals for the coming year. These were predictable wish lists and pet projects that infrequently came to fruition. In fact, we rarely heard much about these goals after they were announced, and you can bet there were no year-end recaps listing those not achieved.
This year, council has just three goals. Maybe with so few they think they might just get them done. I’m not so sure. They have chosen to focus on the development of a child care facility at Burlingame, creating more subsidized housing, and policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and solid waste. Theoretically, council’s goals are meant to address the community’s greatest needs, yet somehow, our elected geniuses have overlooked the biggest and most impactful issue facing everyone the community: traffic. There’s nary a mention of it in their goal-setting, which raises the question of whether or not they even notice, or care.
Notably, each of the prioritized goals directly and significantly impacts our horrendous traffic problem in its own detrimental way.
The addition of an 8,300-square-foot child care facility at Burlingame Ranch to accommodate 70 infants, toddlers and preschoolers is at best a folly when viewed in terms of Aspen’s traffic problem. Unscientifically accounting for siblings, I will guess that 55 families will patronize this day care offering. Maybe a couple dozen of them will be Burlingame residents. That’s still 30 families who will leave their Aspen homes, drive west out of town to Burlingame for drop-off, and join the morning commute back into town for work. Those same 30 families will repeat the journey in the afternoon, lining up with downvalley traffic for pick-up and returning home to town. Shampoo, rinse, and repeat, five days a week. There are many unaddressed questions about building an $8 million child care center at Burlingame, including the pesky issue of how to pay for it, but simply in terms of the community’s single biggest issue, traffic, this idea is a loser on its face due to its location.
Has there ever been a council that hasn’t prioritized subsidized housing? I’m guessing no. This time there will even be a special housing retreat to craft a multi-year strategic plan and address lingering philosophical questions for the future, but in the meantime, the third phase of Burlingame construction is underway, as are initial plans for the housing development at the lumberyard. There are dozens of obvious questions related to both of these projects, but through the prism of traffic alone, they’re both fatally flawed. Obviously both are “outside the roundabout,” a designation that mandates travel along Highway 82 into and out of town for necessities: work, groceries, the post office and nightlife. Burlingame 3 will add 79 units, and densities at the lumberyard are contemplated to be as large as 500 units. Even at half that amount, you can do the math and picture the influx of vehicles onto the highway. Perhaps our housing focus needs to first be on preventing the loss of 496 units due to expiring deed restrictions instead, an issue that won’t add a single car.
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We are already at gridlock. Granted, the closure of I-70 has exponentially exacerbated the issue, but our traffic woes were unsustainable to begin with. An out-of-town day care center at Burlingame and the addition of several hundred units of worker housing even further afield are ingredients in Aspen’s very own recipe for unmitigated disaster. Where exactly will all the cars go? Seriously. There is already nowhere to park. Say what you will about the s curve versus a four-lane highway into town; traffic will always slow to 25 mph on Main Street and the issue of even more cars with nowhere to park will simply not resolve itself.
Furthermore, how can any rational, fresh air-loving human being not laugh out loud at City Council’s hypocritical third priority of “reducing greenhouse gas emissions” given our current traffic conundrum? Our streets are choked with circling and idling traffic, and our neighborhoods are gagging on exhaust fumes long before and after rush hour. Addressing Aspen’s traffic nightmare needs to be goal No. 1, with all other plans, projects and follies back-burnered until it’s solved.
And stop virtue-signaling. It’s well past time to singularly focus on addressing and managing our horrific traffic problem before mandating residential composting and aspiring to zero-net waste this decade as an example to the world. These are noble ideas, but as goals they ring hollow when local traffic is at an all-day standstill on Main Street.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. How about a week-long fall experiment that utilizes our designated intercept lot as it was intended? With all due respect to the ad-hoc homeless encampment there today, mandate that upvalley traffic stop and park for free at the intersection of Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road. We have plenty of buses that can continually run into and out of town. As an experiment, it would certainly upset the apple cart for a week, but how else will we ever learn what might work?
We’ve got to try something.
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