Meredith C. Carroll: The Hassle Creek Bridge: What is it good for?

Meredith C. Carroll
Muck Off

No matter how many years have passed since finishing college, I still suffer from the same higher-education dream: I’m on campus a few weeks before graduation and suddenly realize that I’ve forgotten to attend any classes and therefore have not only failed to complete a single assignment or exam, but I also don’t know what I was meant to study, never mind why I attended college in the first place.

I wake up panicked until remembering that, in fact, I made it through college (relatively) uneventfully and (mostly) successfully. It’s a nightmare plenty of others suffer in some form — and one I’m willing to bet the city of Aspen is having a version of now, albeit theirs is actually based in reality, and it’s just the beginning.

I live 39.6 miles from the Grand Avenue Bridge yet when booking a flight originating in Denver last May for travel in November, I already knew how the Glenwood Springs construction beginning in August 2017 had the potential to affect my plans.

By comparison, I live 0.8 miles from Aspen’s Castle Creek Bridge and it wasn’t until two weeks ago that I’d first heard of a looming massive local construction project that began Monday. Despite living on the path of the detour route, no postcards warning of Bridgemageddon were stuffed under my doormat and nothing arrived in the mail, either. Other than a banner hung on the bridge in late March (that failed to include the word “construction”), I saw zero notices. I even share a bed with a local reporter and still, nothing.

By all means, let’s move forward with construction to mend our failing infrastructure. If we need to suffer through years of lane closures, drilling, cranes, tractors, heavy traffic, detours and repaving for safety’s sake, no complaints will originate from me.

The Castle Creek Bridge project, though, isn’t about a bridge on the verge of collapse (it’s only nearing the verge of collapse, so, phew). This is about creating an “enhanced roadway” and widening the sidewalk for pedestrians and cyclists. It’s unclear how the road will be enhanced when its already-narrow width will, in fact, shrink farther. Other fuzzy details include why any of the $4.65 million is being spent to make a sidewalk more bike-friendly when under the very same bridge already exists a lovely path conveniently leading to downtown Aspen via an avenue that’s partly off limits to motorized vehicles.

The Hassle Creek project comes on the heels of still another headache for the city. Earlier this year they proposed eliminating 97 parking spaces in the core and turning Aspen’s restaurant row into a one-way street to make travel easier for two-wheelers. Sensing a pattern yet?

Aspen is proudly and profusely socially and environmentally forward-thinking, with bicycles increasingly emerging as integral to the city’s master plan. The problem is that for so many people, ditching cars for bikes isn’t a real solution; it’s a privilege bestowed upon those with the luxury to choose between riding in a car or on a bike.

People driving into town with tools, cleaning supplies, delivery trucks, paint cans, construction vehicles, other assorted special equipment and children don’t usually have the luxury of choosing between making a green choice for the planet instead of their wallet. There are those who need to get to work in an efficient manner and then leave to get groceries, pick up children and go to doctors’ appointments, among other legitimate responsibilities.

For people with extra time at their disposal, who have bikes with fat tires studded for inclement weather, or schedules that afford them, say, a lunchtime ride up to Ashcroft, surely a variety of routes is a gift. But for those whose finances don’t allow for a road bike, mountain bike, town bike and car, who live too far from Aspen to ditch motorized transportation, whose struggle to fit their real-life responsibilities into anything resembling a normal schedule, narrowing the lanes of an already-narrow bridge is rubbing salt in the wounds they’ve suffered as a result of sitting in the traffic plaguing Aspen for years.

Unlike the city of Glenwood Springs, which constantly updated the public via social media, newspaper and radio notices, and abundant outreach, not to mention incentives to continue patronizing businesses adversely affected by their bridge construction, there’s no “we’re all in this together” mentality for Aspen’s project. You can’t really blame those who are scheming of ways to de-Aspen their lives for the duration of this four-month project spread over six months.

Proposing more hassles for drivers and fewer parking spaces without ample notice and feedback from those who stand to be most affected seems to be a signal that Aspen is more interested in looking good on paper than making life good (or better) for those whose contributions keep Aspen ticking.

Hopefully the city will snap out of its bicycle-worshipping reverie sooner rather than later and realize if they build it and people can’t get there easily by car, they won’t come.

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