Guest commentary: Safety improvements around the corner for Aspen’s Park and Midland corridor
At a Sept. 20 work session, the city of Aspen’s engineering staff delivered on a request made in January by Aspen City Council and the Planning and Zoning Commission to address a steady increase in the number of cars, pedestrians and cyclists in the well-loved Park and Midland corridor in Aspen’s east end.
The section of roadway on Park Avenue between Midland and Hopkins forces all users to share the same space, inevitably leading to uncomfortable interactions and experiences.
The preferred plan presented in September includes a sidewalk connection along the east side of Park Avenue between Midland and Hopkins, stormwater upgrades, a realignment and regrade of the bike and pedestrian trail terminus at the Park and East Hopkins intersection, and possible intersection improvements such as bus stop upgrades.
The design has the travel width of the road shifting a maximum of 5 feet to the west, which narrows the total travel lanes to 10 feet wide each to accommodate the new sidewalk. The design also necessitates the city mitigates for weather events via a storm sewer along Park Avenue with an element that cleans the storm runoff before entering the Roaring Fork River.
City Council supported the design separating pedestrians from vehicular traffic based on over a decade of discussion and analysis, a comprehensive study of traffic and neighborhood movements, best engineering practices, timeline, budget, the availability of resources to bring completed sidewalk connections on Park Avenue while maintaining two-way traffic, and neighborhood consensus.
Results of a community survey were split between the solutions presented along Park Avenue. However, 80% of respondents favored improvements to the Hopkins and Park intersection, just not in the form of a one-way street configuration.
Transforming Park and Midland into a one-way loop had been under strong consideration; however, it was neither a cost- nor risk-free prospect. The construction impact and expense of a one-way street could be significantly greater than the preferred addition of the sidewalk because the roadway would need to be modified, possibly including the addition of sidewalks on both sides. Traffic engineering strategy for safety and efficiency focuses primarily on traffic flow, road geometry and infrastructure.
After studying the issue on Park and Midland, it was concluded that switching to a one-way street would substantially increase vehicle speeds, which are not an issue at present, potentially creating a more dangerous situation that would then require additional alterations to the roadway.
The Engineering Department is in the process of reaching out to the residents directly affected by the new safety improvements to collect feedback and ensure their understanding of the design and any related implications. Following that, Aspen City Council will review the feedback and plan with the Engineering Department to move forward with the final design and budget for the project in 2023, timed to coincide with adjacent infrastructure work planned for Midland Avenue.
Please continue sharing feedback and checking for updates on AspenCommunityVoice.com, as the commitment of the public to stay meaningfully engaged throughout this process continues to be critical in informing the best possible design plan.
Pete Rice, P.E., is the Division Manager for the City of Aspen Engineering. Email questions or comments to ParkandMidland@cityofaspen.com.
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