Stone: When is a park not a park? When it’s a bus-apalooza!
October 22, 2014
How can we explain the overwhelming desire to screw up the base of Aspen Mountain?
That land that runs across the bottom of the mountain ought to be a treasured resource, the link between the city of Aspen and the mountain that is at the heart of the town's astonishing success.
Aspen has ski slopes that run right down into a real historic city.
We should treasure connection.
Instead, it seems that anyone and everyone, from the sleaziest fast-buck developer to the city's own government, just can't wait to carve their name on that sacred space — by putting up a building.
Think of it as graffiti. Brick-and-mortar, concrete-and-rebar graffiti.
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And, while you're at it, think of all those salivating hot shots — from the developers with thousand-dollar haircuts to the planners with post-graduate degrees — as kids with cans of spray paint, ready to make their mark.
And since the residents have — at least for now — defeated the City Council's desire for a wall of four-story hotels clear across that land, the new pending desecration is, of all damn things, a bus station.
A bus station!
Most cities do not place their bus depot on a pedestal in a place of honor so all can worship at the Shrine of Mass Transit.
Mass transit is great. But it's a utility, not a deity.
Buses should run through town, stop for passengers and then move on. The bus terminal — which is an industrial operation — gets tucked away somewhere convenient and, as much as possible, out of sight.
But not in Aspen.
Oh no. We've got our bus depot right in the middle of what ought to be sacred space at the bottom of the mountain — and the only thing the bureaucrats can see wrong with that, apparently, is that it's not big enough.
So they're going to fix that.
RFTA transit officials and consultants and city planners have come up with plans for a new, improved — ta-da! — bus-apalooza at Rubey Park. (Redefining "park" as "a place you 'park' buses.")
And, in the face of its full-time professional staff, Aspen's part-time amateur City Council seems powerless to say anything but, "Well, gee! That's a great idea!"
One brave councilman said it's "going to be a dramatic improvement to this part of town."
Really? What's going to make that "dramatic improvement"?
Well, replacing one old building with three new ones that, in total, are roughly double the size of the old one. Twice as big? Must be twice as good!
And, to make things even nicer, they're going to include parking spaces for — gee, how about 30 buses? Nice!
OK. I exaggerate. It's only 29 buses. Or maybe just 28. The numbers get obscured with all the plans and revised plans and approved plans and re-approved plans. Sleight of hand? Sleight of bus!
One big question is how many buses will be lined up nose-to-tail across the south end of Wagner Park. (The Great Wall of RFTA — our new tourist attraction. Who needs a mountain?) The latest plans on display skip over that detail by not including Wagner Park in the drawings (clever!), while the explainers busily explain that they won't park any buses there at all — except when, you know, they really need to.
Any way you slice it, it's a lot of buses.
A whole block of Durant Avenue at Rubey "Park" will be lined with parked buses on both sides of the street. And another eight or 10 will be tucked behind the three new buildings.
We need that many parked buses? Really?
Glad you asked.
According to the consultants, they need 11 or 12 "staging spaces" where buses load and unload passengers. Seems like a lot, but maybe there really are times when a dozen buses are busy loading and unloading at the bus-apalooza.
And then they need 18 additional "layover spaces," which, to quote the consultants, are for "drivers on lunch relief, spare skier buses to be put into service on demand, spare buses to replace buses that experience mechanical issues … and unanticipated show-up buses."
Oh those unanticipated show-ups. "Excuse me, is this Dubuque (Iowa)? Can we park our bus here? We took a wrong turn at Terre Haute."
So there you go. Parking for 29 buses — or maybe just 28.
And that is why most cites put their bus terminals somewhere convenient but out of sight.
Because they are surrounded by buses.
So why does Rubey "Park" have to be Aspen's Grand Central bus-apalooza, complete with RFTA offices, lunch rooms, break rooms and training rooms — plus ticket windows, information desks and major waiting areas?
That all needs to be somewhere but not front and center at the bottom of Aspen Mountain.
Yes, most of the RFTA bus routes need to stop there, especially during ski season, when people want to get to those great ski slopes. But the fact that buses need to go there does not mean it's the right place for a major transportation center.
All the buses stop at Paepcke Park, but no one's suggesting that we turn that into a bus parking lot.
Aspen's bus depot is at Rubey "Park" because — well, because it's always been there. And that's a really great reason for keeping everything exactly the way it's always been.
OK. Just to show that there can be such a thing as an idea: Move the transportation center down to the city's "industrial area" on North Mill Street, next to the municipal parking garage, in the space currently occupied by the Aspen Chamber visitor office. Park all those buses along Rio Grande Place — it's already pretty industrial. And move the Chamber tourist office to Rubey Park. It would be a lot more tourist-friendly at the base of the mountain. (And turn the rest of the "park" back into a park.)
Maybe that's a rotten idea, too. But here's a simple point: You really want "a dramatic improvement" at the base of the mountain? Get the bus depot out of there!
Sadly, it may already be too late.
They've got their hearts — and our wallets — set on it. (How much? Chump change! Call it $8 million.)
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is email@example.com.
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