High Points: Let’s give ‘em something to talk about

Paul E. Anna
High Points

Just when things were going so well …

All right, that might a bit Pollyanna-ish, but it seems that just when folks were finally falling into the rhythm of the summer season, the city of Aspen decided it was time to fire up some new controversy. They created a “living lab” as it were, to generate a little public, let’s call it, discourse.

Mission accomplished.

In late June, in an effort to promote safety on Aspen’s streets, the city engineering department implemented a new approach to how cars, bikes and pedestrians interact in the downtown core. They created bike lanes adjacent to the curbs that run against the traffic and changed the parking from angled to parallel outside the bike line, moving parked cars closer to the middle of the street.

Drawing up such a concept on a napkin would likely raise questions such as: how do the parallel parkers see the oncoming bikers when they open their car doors and how do the pedestrians know to avoid the bikers on the inside lane? There were no real precedents for this layout, so suddenly, one day, drivers, bikers and walkers were left to their own devices to figure out exactly how the new plan was supposed to work. It was like putting the express lane on the right side of the highway with no explanation, or dropping in a new rotary without describing how it functions. Oh right, we have done that as well.

But beyond the confusion, beyond the danger, beyond the “WTF is that?” conundrum, the real problem to some members of the local business community is that the living lab stripped the core of 44 potential parking spaces right in the middle of town. These have ostensibly been replaced by 44 new spaces in the “outlying zones of the downtown core,” according to reporting in this paper. I’d like to see those 44 new spaces in the “outlying zones of the downtown core.” In my dreams.

That the decision was made to reduce the supply of parking spaces as demand for the same was peaking in July is questionable to begin with. Maybe we could have had the living lab do its experimentation in say, early May or late October, to get the kinks out. But for some reason, the week before the Fourth of July was the time frame deemed most appropriate to “try something new.”

On a recent Tuesday evening I happened, on the third pass around the block, to get a shot at parking parallel in front of the Polo shop across from Paradise. Whereas in the past I might have had to make just a quick turn into the space, on this occasion, with a tight spot between the front and back cars, I doubled up on my parking skills. Even with a rear-view camera, a new age necessity for parking in Aspen, it took a minute. But the woman in the Rover behind me was in no mood to give me that minute. Hoonnnnk! Road rage ensued as the blast of the horn reverberated around the corner of Cooper Avenue and Galena Street.  

City Council may be not be known as a source of serenity for this town. But this time they seem to have cranked the anxiety up a notch in response to one of their many community surveys. Their intentions may have been good (after all, who doesn’t like safety?). But, before changes this significant are made, the question should always be asked, “What are the unintended consequences?”

Personally, I can’t wait until Sept. 26 when the living lab is set to expire. I want my angles back.