Lessons from Zermatt
When thinking about the perennial Aspen gripes of traffic and workforce housing, many of us still think of Aspen as a little mountain town. But Aspen hasn’t been a little mountain town for decades. It’s become a city that just happens to be in the mountains. With that in mind, here are two possible solutions to the traffic and housing problems Aspen faces today.
First, on traffic, you won’t solve Aspen’s traffic problem with one bridge and two lanes at the Entrance to Aspen, no matter how much you spend on the Mobility Lab or the Castle Creek Bridge. Instead, you should ban cars from Aspen and build a 4,000-vehicle parking structure on the 60 acre Thomas/Marolt Open Space southeast of the roundabout. And build a second bridge across Castle Creek from the parking structure to Main Street. Use this bridge to ferry visitors to their hotels, condos and ADUs by electric shuttle. Keep the existing bridge for emergency vehicles, bikes, RFTA and a limited and controlled number of construction, commercial and residential vehicles.
Sound crazy? Zermatt banned cars years ago. Four miles downvalley, they built a 2,100-space covered parking structure. All Zermatt’s visitors leave their cars in the structure and shuttle into Zermatt from there. Resident, business and worker vehicles receive strictly limited passes. Once visitors are in Zermatt, they get around by electric bus, shuttle or taxi. Or they bicycle or walk. It’s the paradise Aspen aspires to be.
You think that’s too cityfied or impractical? Zermatt is a world-class destination ski resort just like Aspen, and it works there. To begin the process, Aspen should send a delegation to Zermatt to investigate. If Zermatt can survive and thrive without cars, so can Aspen.
What about summer through traffic on Highway 82? Either build a bypass on the north side of town or get the state to abandon Highway 82 up to Independence Pass. The road is closed half the year already. The road could be repurposed along the lines of the Maroon Creek road, and through traffic on Main Street would disappear.
Second, on workforce housing, Aspen should be inspired by Auden Schendler’s piece in Outside and build a workforce village on the 64-acre Moore Open Space west of the roundabout. Build it with at least five stories, subterranean parking, high density and a mix of rental and owner units. You could house Aspen’s entire workforce there. They could walk, bike or shuttle across the new Main Street bridge to get to work. Build enough so you wouldn’t have millennials and retired workforce boomers fighting over too few spaces.
If Aspen remains paralyzed by clinging to outdated concepts of open space and preserving small-town characteristics with inadequate workforce housing, roadways and bridges, then its visitors, residents and workers will continue to endure long commutes, sit in stop-and-go traffic trying to enter and leave the city, and struggle with parking and traffic once they’re there for decades to come. Aspen deserves better.