Stone: Deck chairs, Titanic — you know the story
December 2, 2015
I see that the City Council — in its inexhaustible, um, wisdom — is going to solve Aspen's traffic problems by fiddling with the cost of paid parking.
What a great idea! Deeply creative, innovative thinking: If we make parking more expensive downtown and cheaper in April, then the Roto-Rooter man won't drive his truck into town. (Hey, I'm not making this up. Read all about it in your local paper.)
Good thinking, guys.
And you know they're paying experts to come up with this kind of breakthrough thinking.
Perhaps — and, yes, I know I'm getting just a little off-track here, but I cannot let this item slip by without comment — they're using the same brilliant thinkers who have decided to renovate the Aspen airport terminal just in time to have the main passenger areas under construction for Christmas season. "To serve you better!" Gee, for this kind of wizardly planning, we had to bring in a new airport director from Los Angeles — sounds more like the kind of project management you get in Botswana. Or maybe Yemen. But, hey, he's an expert. So I'm sure everything will be just peachy.
I, of course, am neither a designer nor a traffic expert, which puts me well ahead of the crowd. So, with the arrogance of the ignorant (less hazardous than the arrogance of the expert), based on nothing except actual experience driving the damn highway, I have a couple of suggestions aimed at one of the biggest sources of traffic problems in Aspen.
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First: Modify the rules of the Highway 82 high-occupancy-vehicle lanes.
A simple new rule: No commercial traffic in the HOV lane.
Any vehicle with commercial license plates has to move into the slow lane.
Here's the point: The object of the HOV lane is to reward people with two or more passengers by giving them a faster trip into town. Remember? That was the whole idea.
But right now, there's almost no benefit at all to being in the HOV lane. That "fast" lane is clogged with slow-moving commercial vehicles.
The current HOV rules only count passengers: Two people per vehicle is all you need to qualify. So, to pick a prime example, garbage trucks — which always have two people and are huge, lumbering traffic jams all on their own — just love to hog the "fast" lane. And then there are the moving vans, delivery trucks and dilapidated pickups full of rakes and shovels and a couple of hardworking laborers who are never in a hurry and couldn't break the speed limit in their clapped-out beaters if they tried. Which they don't.
I know some people would love to debate whether the HOV lanes are an invention of the devil — "Brought to you by Satan's School of Highway Management!" — but the rules say we have to have them, so we should at least make them serve their purpose: rewarding those who "carpool."
That actually is a minor move. It would only require a few dozen new highway signs.
I have a much bigger and more difficult but truly productive suggestion.
And, by the way, I bring this up in a world in which city officials have actually discussed a new bridge over Castle Creek to allow construction traffic to bypass downtown on the way to Red Mountain. Or something like that.
So, instead of their big, expensive, terrible idea, I offer this much cheaper, more effective alternative:
No commercial traffic during rush hour.
Commercial vehicles should be banned from entering Aspen between 6 and 9 in the morning. And from leaving between 3 and 6 in the evening.
All commercial vehicles heading to town in the morning have to get here bright and early or park and wait. An intercept lot out by Brush Creek Road seems about right.
(And if we could get away with it — which I doubt — I'd include any vehicle with a company name painted on the side and all those construction workers in their pickup trucks full of tools. With their road rage, anti-Aspen rage and general lack of snow tires, they're a pretty big part of the problem.)
Sounds harsh? Damn right.
Aspen's traffic problem is harsh. And you don't solve a hard problem by throwing marshmallows.
Right now, the commercial traffic makes up an enormous chunk of the traffic jam, both in vehicle numbers and in vehicle size (and rudeness and slow-moving obstructionism).
These are out-of-town people coming here to make a buck. And they generally charge us shamelessly for the privilege of their presence.
Sure, I know they need to make a living and I know we need them here. No question about any of that.
What we do not need — or, more to the point, what we cannot continue to allow — is for them to form a major part of the traffic jam that is destroying the town.
Look, when you get too fat and your pants don't fit, you can do two things: You can get a bigger pair of pants or you can go on a diet.
Aspen has made it clear that a bigger pair of traffic pants (four-lane straight-shot into the middle of town) is not going to happen.
Anyway, when you get too fat and you buy a bigger pair of pants, you're still too fat. You're just a fat guy in a pair of baggy pants. And your doctor still tells you that if you don't lose some weight, you're going to drop dead.
So it's time for a diet.
We can't cut the skiers.
We can't cut the waiters and waitresses, cooks and clerks, ski pros, groomers and lift ops who take care of the skiers morning, noon and night.
So, sorry, all you delivery guys, cement mixers, construction trucks and all the rest. You can get up early, or you can sleep late.
You are welcome — you are necessary — but not during rush hour.
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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