Meredith C. Carroll: Try to make Aspen a little more user-friendly

Meredith C. Carroll
Muck Off
Meredith Carroll
Courtesy photo

In a setback to anyone already struggling to live affordably near where they work, last week The Aspen Times reported on a study by Economic & Planning Systems Inc. that determined the local housing shortfall has the potential to swell even more over the next decade when nearly 40 percent of the community’s workforce over age 50 plans to retire — while still making Aspen home.

But despite the affordable-housing shortage, not to mention the ridiculous median price for a single-family residence — up 30% over 2018 to $6.55M — keeping the trust-fund-less in a should-I-stay-or-should-I-go position, the good news is that with older, active people often comes the potential for injury. And limited mobility in Aspen means Scottsdale keeps looking better by the hour. I speak from experience.

My apologies to anyone who may have previously written this column in some form in the past, although what’s even sorrier is that it needs to be written again. I’m neither nearing retirement age nor moving to Arizona, however, I’ve come to learn firsthand anyway exactly what a repellant Aspen can be for anyone whose ability to move is restricted.

(Yes, I got hurt three-and-a-half weeks ago so, yes, I’m now that person who just landed in hell and immediately started asking around to see if anyone else has noticed the 9,941-degree heat.) The 18,280 minutes (give or take) that have passed (slowly) since breaking my leg have given me ample time to sit and stew about all the places I’d like to be, and just how many of them have become unreachable as a result of being injured.

Aspen has 682 parking spaces in the downtown core and another 21 designated handicapped-only. Handicap permit holders aren’t restricted to just 21 spaces though; a pass gives you carte blanche to park free of charge in any of the 703 spots. Except what happens if you’re going to, say, Explore Booksellers, and the entire north end of the sidewalk is piled high with snow, with a shoveled opening only directly in front of the shop. That means all but a single parking place requires walking with crutches along an icy and traffic-filled Main Street to get safely to a sidewalk that then requires a fair amount of bobbing and weaving over cracks, uneven pavement, ice and slush. Don’t even get me started on cobblestone walkways (looking at you, Cooper and Hyman malls).

Then there’s the Aspen School District, which racks up lots of awards each year, except none are for how it communicates the ways to get around campus other than on two feet. A gate blocks access to the elementary school front door and the Black Box Theatre, with no sign indicating how to get beyond it by car — and for many in the know, they still don’t really know. The elementary school elevator is roughly half the building’s length away from the front door, and even then, it’s locked. Enter words such as “wheelchair” or “handicap” in the district’s website “Find it!” toolbar and what you’ll find is a blank page. (To be fair, when the access issue was recently brought to their attention, school district officials said it would be addressed.)

Obermeyer Place isn’t winning any awards with its design-for-all, either. The street-level businesses on Rio Grande Place jump from Suite 103 to 116 with no signs indicating the location of the other establishments or how to get upstairs to try to find them. The only immediately visible way to ascend the complex is via a set of stairs and winding ramp — that leads to more stairs.

Then there are the small indignities around every corner, including doors too heavy to pause open while crutching (or wheeling), such that you’re forced to pray your ass is literally not hit on the way out (or in); stores and restaurants without restrooms on the first floor, or stairs as the only option to even just get inside; narrow aisles that make you choose between accidentally knocking merchandise off the shelves or just using Amazon instead; and second-class-citizen seating in more places than not.

One day soon(ish), I’ll (allegedly) be back up and running, but my newfound empathy for those for whom getting back on their feet is not an option, ever, runs deep. While inadequate handicapped access is not a problem exclusive to Aspen, the number of people in casts, braces and wheelchairs, or otherwise constrained due to a temporary or permanent injury or disability, is likely higher here than average due to the nature of the big bumps of white stuff on those tall hills that attract people to town. Yet, what does make Aspen unique is its forward-thinking ways, which is all the more reason why it’s way past time to step into 2019 and make life a little more user-friendly for the people who’d like to enjoy it all the same, crutches, warts and all.

Follow Meredith Carroll on Twitter @MCCarroll. More at


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