Marolt:The problem with traffic is not about asphalt |

Marolt:The problem with traffic is not about asphalt

Roger Marolt
Roger This

If we believe that our traffic problems are caused by the alignment and configuration of Highway 82 at the Entrance to Aspen, then by all means we should continue to spend gobs of time and money trying to perfect the design of our road that has eluded us for four decades. Call me impatient; I’m not convinced that tweaking the road is the answer.

All the non-solutions thus far are basically variations of two themes of pavement design, neither of which stands a chance of making driving life easier around here. One idea is known as the “straight shot,” and the other is the “S-curves.” We have been arguing over these two methods of handling traffic since before the West End became the middle of town. We fight, we vote, we tweak, and the traffic keeps getting thicker and middle fingers keep cramping.

The S-curves alignment is an obvious obstruction. It doesn’t take an engineering degree to see that when you have four lanes of vehicles coming from each direction merging into two at the city limits, the result will be a major slowdown. You can see this happen every morning and evening during high seasons. There is no debate about this.

Residents have proposed overpasses here and underpasses there with computer-chipped traffic lights between in order to keep the S-curves a part of our soul, but the bottom line is that an efficiently functioning bottleneck, is still a bottleneck and traffic is still going to be thick trying to force its way through it. Modifying the S-curves to eliminate our traffic jam is an exercise in futility.

This conclusion about the S-curves shouldn’t give the straight-shotters a tingly feeling in their lead feet, though. Their alternative is equally flawed. In fairness, their “solution” has never been tried, so we’re theoretical here, but a simple observation about traffic flowing into Aspen can pop the dream bubble of wide-open, curve-free highway free-flowing into town.

As you get closer to Aspen, all kinds of stuff start happening such as residential neighborhoods, golfing, going to school, heading off to ski Highland Bowl and getting to the hospital. Routing traffic to all this stuff requires the use of traffic lights, speed bumps and roundabouts. These are not technically bottlenecks, but they are technically traffic strainers. The results of the bottleneck and strainer are the same.

Besides, even if the straight shot made traffic flow better, I firmly believe we would entice more traffic with it. In fact, I think we would get exactly enough additional traffic to make traffic exactly as slow as it is now. The driving population of Aspen has a proven tolerance for rush-hour suffering. We will fill our roads and highways all the way up to the verge of spontaneous group road rage by cutting back on busing, carpooling and carefully planning our driving trips into and around town.

We know the S-curves bottleneck doesn’t work, but our instincts tell us that the straight shot won’t be any better. This is why we never get anywhere with changing our traffic situation. We all want a solution, but there are only two basic ways you can design the narrow entrance to our town, and neither offers much hope.

By blaming the layout of our roads for causing our traffic woes, we convince ourselves that the solution is in changing the roads. That seems silly to me. Blaming our traffic problems on Highway 82 is like blaming spring runoff on the Roaring Fork River.

So, then, what is the real solution for solving Aspen’s traffic problem? I can only think of a few:

1. Don’t build new hotels.

2. Don’t build new timeshares.

3. Don’t expand the airport.

4. Stop bringing new events to town. (Anybody notice that our summer traffic starts with Food & Wine and ends when the fat lady of the Music Associates of Aspen sings?)

5. Expand the pedestrian mall.

6. Don’t allow new buildings to exceed the square footage of the structures they replace.

So, the actual solution to our traffic problem boils down to this: We can’t actually reconfigure our highway to fit our town, so the only other option is to reconfigure the size of our town to fit our highway. It probably really is that simple. But simple is not the same thing as easy. The easiest thing is to leave our entrance to town the way it has been forever, continue to bring our blood to the boiling point twice a day and keep on arguing about moving asphalt around.

When it comes to summer traffic, Roger Marolt is tired of sitting on his asphalt. Email