Thu 02/01/2007 12:00AM MST
About 70 people came to the Aspen High School cafeteria to air their feelings and ideas about the Entrance to Aspen at a city-sponsored forum last night.
Photo: Participants at the Entrance to Aspen forum review proposed discussion topics in the Aspen High School cafeteria on Wednesday evening.
Mayor Helen Klanderud opened the meeting by saying the entrance issue had finally reached a tipping point after nearly 40 years of debate.
"I believe we have reached a point of urgency," she said. "No matter what your point of view is on this, I can't imagine that anyone thinks there's not a problem."
After the mayor's remarks, participants were invited to come to the center of the room and identify topics for discussion by a smaller group. More than a dozen topics were raised, ranging from opposition to a tunnel through the Marolt open space to the impacts of land-use decisions on transportation. Other topics included light rail, open space, short-term solutions and whether an extra lane for busses would solve anything.
For the next two hours, attendees milled about the cafeteria, as each person who raised a topic was given a space to hold a discussion. Some topics were more popular than others, and some topics -- such as postponing the search for solutions for 20 years -- didn't attract anyone.
Much of the discussion was essentially a debate on the merits of the Colorado Department of Transportation's preferred alternative to the entrance, arrived at after years of study and millions of dollars. The plan is to cut a new road across the Marolt-Thomas Open Space with a new bridge across Castle Creek, connecting directly with 7th and Main streets. This new alignment would include two lanes (one in each direction) for car travel and two lanes exclusively for mass transit.
There was strong support at the meeting for abandoning the preferred alternative in favor of reworking the existing alignment through the S-curves. A popular suggestion was to add another lane through the S-curves and across the existing Castle Creek Bridge for incoming bus traffic in the morning and outgoing bus traffic in the evening.
One topic-group asked if one lane for cars and one lane for busses in each direction is enough to meet the valley's needs. The discussion was broad, examining personal autos, mass transit and the American way.
Better mass transit is desirable, but punishing those in cars does not improve our quality of life, one of the group's summary points read.
One point brought up in that group was that since Aspen is at the end of a dead-end road in the winter, no amount of additional lanes would eliminate congestion at the entrance. The only way to alleviate congestion is to take more cars off the road.
The group examining short-term solutions raised the issue that traffic lights and the roundabout tend to work against each other. One man was adamant in his belief that the traffic light at Truscott is the source of outgoing traffic woes. The light backs up traffic to the roundabout, which backs up traffic to the Cemetery Lane light and before you know it, gridlock extends all the way to the Hotel Jerome, he argued.
The same was said about the Cemetery Lane light for the inbound commute. More than one person asked what the point is of having a roundabout, which is supposed to smooth traffic flows better than lights, when there is a stoplight 200 yards away.
Others called for all traffic lights between the entrance and Buttermilk to be wiped out in favor of underpasses.
Other questions were raised. Can CDOT be trusted to design a solution? Will traffic always be fact of life in Aspen? Are the S-curves an important part of Aspen's history?
All these questions, and more, were of course not answered at Wednesday's session, nor will they be answered at a similar session Saturday from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at the high school. The city is also encouraging people to meet and discuss the entrance in the comfort of their own homes with their "meeting in a box" concept.
People managed to keep from screaming at each other at the forum.
"There are no targets here, just a bunch of neighbors talking," said Michael Herman, who the city brought in from Chicago to facilitate the meeting.
On April 12, the city will hold a large public meeting, complete with wireless keypad voting technology, similar to last June's meetings on growth and development, on the entrance.
There will also be at least one entrance question on the May ballot, so voices on the entrance will become more numerous and certainly louder in the next few months.
By Charles Agar - Aspen, CO Colorado - February 1, 2007
ASPEN — More than 60 Aspen residents peered into Pandora's Box at an open forum Wednesday night at Aspen High School to discuss solutions to the longstanding Entrance to Aspen conundrum.
Michael Herman, a professional consultant from Chicago, led the forum, where citizens drummed up topics, convened discussion groups and presented findings.
Photo: Aspen residents talk options for the Entrance to Aspen at an open discussion forum Wednesday at the Aspen High School. (Jordan Curet/The? Aspen Times)
The forum came after a work session Tuesday in which the City Council directed staff to draft a ballot initiative for the May elections. The initiative would pave the way for two designated bus lanes and two lanes of general traffic from Buttermilk across the new Maroon Creek Bridge and as far as the roundabout.
Aspen residents had the opportunity to chime in on that and other options, ranging from a gondola system that would carry the more than 1 million visitors to the resorts, to keeping the current alignment and improving traffic management.
"We've tried a lot of other things that didn't work. Could it get any worse?" said former Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland, who led a group that focused on land use and growth.
"Rail option" "Save Marolt Open Space" and "Improve Gridlock Now" read some of the 23 signs on the wall.
"There are a limited amount of possibilities," said County Commissioner Jack Hatfield. He said he hopes for the "vote to end all votes" on the issue, and a solution that incorporates transit and general traffic entering the city: "It's time to have a solution and cut the politics."
But Hatfield chimed in that the forum was too "feel-good" and not so practical.
Herman, however, said the forum is a way to hear from everyone before narrowing the discussion.
"The agenda is theirs for generating the ideas that reach a solution," Herman said.
"We'll see," said Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud of Wednesday's informal forum. While churning up debate that might create division, she said, "We may get a whole new idea about what to do with this highway."
"We're committed to doing something different," said Randy Ready, Aspen's assistant city manager, about Wednesday's experiment. He hopes the process will result in community consensus if possible.
"We're thrilled with the turnout," Ready said. After multiple efforts in which the city took the lead, he said this solution was different: turning to citizens to see what they think.
The results of Tuesday's meeting, and a second meeting planned for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the school, will go into a "meeting-in-a-box" kit that will circulate to ad hoc groups throughout the community. The kit will include the Entrance to Aspen video, as well as an animation video, now in development, that will depict the different options for the entrance.
The process will end with a community forum April 12 at the Wheeler Opera House, where residents will have a chance to vote on questions in real time.
Ready said the city has the funds to build two lanes of general traffic and light rail as far as the roundabout. But building two lanes designated for buses instead of rail as far as the roundabout would require a ballot question in May.
"Tonight is a chance for people to say how visionary we want to be," said Joe Elsen, program engineer with Colorado Department of Transportation.
Elsen noted it is important to look closely at the preferred alternative: realigning Highway 82 across the Marolt Open Space, a cut-and-cover tunnel and a new bridge over Castle Creek that carries two lanes of general traffic and two transit lanes. He encouraged residents to consider the objective in a city focused on staying green and consider the future, including traffic that could more than double.
"Do we want more cars?" Elsen asked. "It's important to talk."
Charles Agar's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.