Marolt: Aspen needs to be on the road more travelled
September 5, 2013
Show me a person who truly hates their car, and I'll show you a person who is kicking tires on a new one.
Cars make our first impressions. Over the course of a lifetime, we spend far more money on them than we do on clothes, deodorants, teeth whiteners and facelifts combined! Most of us will have more cars than kids. They are what others see us as. They say more about what we believe in than we do.
Yes, there is a place and time for our beloved cars, and they are "here" and "now." So, in Aspen, when it comes to automobiles, why are we trying so hard to save ourselves from ourselves? It's the ultimate conflict of interest.
I have a question: If parking is so valuable to businesses in downtown Aspen, then why did we turn so much of it into a pedestrian mall in the '70s? Here's another: If the pedestrian mall has been such a boon to Aspen businesses, then why do so many fail there where tourists loaf and loafers tour?
I'm just wondering. But, as long as I'm wondering, I may as well wonder out loud. I wonder what Aspen would be like if it was car-friendly.
A lot of old-time shoppers around here used to say that you can only buy as much as you can carry. How prescient. Shoppers in Aspen are not generally constrained by how much purchasing power they carry in their wallets, but their arms are no longer and no stronger than anyone else's. They're actually a lot weaker in many cases because of the altitude, of course. Imagine an Aspen where a wealthy person can simply back the Range Rover up to any old shop, pop the rear window and say, "Fill 'er up."
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Think out of the eco-friendly box for a minute. The truth is that what we do in Aspen to protect the globe from warming is largely symbolic. Maybe we have an indirect impact on the overall reduction in greenhouse gases, or maybe we don't. Why chance it? Wouldn't it be better if we just stepped on the gas and began driving for fun again? Jeeping up Smuggler Road is a lot better than hoofing it.
Let's not forget that the messiest vitality of all is cars. They are the greatest expression of American individualism and a unique part of our local history. Imagine a daily parade of modern cars through our downtown proudly showing the world exactly who we are — the A6 of resort towns.
As I alluded to, the easiest way we can be kind to cars is to tear out the pedestrian mall. Think of all the extra parking directly in front of our favorite restaurants and boutiques! At a fraction of the cost of constructing a parking garage under Wagner Park, too! By enforcing a strict 11.5-mph speed limit, we can create a tranquil Mayberry-like feel. Can you imagine parking right in front of the Red Onion like they did in the old days?
Of course it makes no sense to do this if cars can't even get downtown. Main Street is wide enough for three lanes on each side, and if we possess the political ball joint to make our town truly unique, we can crate a six-lane European-style faux Autobahn into Aspen all the way from Snowmass Base Village. It would give Audis and Porsches a reason to live!
We have the technology to tunnel underneath Independence Pass, miner-style, leaving the bore a little raw and timbered for the tourists. Think of the Denver traffic coming and going year-round. Can you say, "Goodbye Vail!"? We could convert the road over the top into a, well, over-the-top bike path. Get the bike riders off the streets and out of town where they belong? Win-win!
When we start to envision Aspen as car-friendly, I think a lot of people begin to see the wisdom of subsidizing the cost of gas. We can reduce the cost of fuel to sub-Glenwood prices. This, along with the abolition of paid parking, would entice people from downvalley to come here to fill up, dine and shop rather than the other way around.
As much as we hate to admit it, there is strong correlation between traffic jams and real estate values. From New York to Boston, from San Francisco to Los Angeles, Paris, London and Tokyo, the most valuable land is where the cars are. It's time to join the club, for the sake of our children's inheritances.
A good friend of Roger Marolt's came up with the idea for this story, but he likes him too well to give him public credit. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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