Council says no to parklets, yes to lower speed limits in the West End

by Dorothy Atkins, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

Aspen City Council rejected one proposed idea for transforming parking spaces into outdoor seating and supported another to lower speed limits in the West End to 14 miles per hour in a Tuesday work session on transportation and pedestrian issues.

If council agreed to it, a temporary patio space, called a “parklet,” would be installed on top of six parking spots on Hopkins Avenue between Mill and Monarch streets, which is known as “restaurant row,” during four summer months. The project would cost between $20,000 and $25,000 and the city would rent out the patio space to restaurants adjacent to it for a fee of about $1.50 per square foot, which would bring in about $1,440 a month in revenue. That rate could be increased, if council determined it is too low, noted Scott Miller, city capital asset director.

Parking director Tim Ware argued against the idea, because of the lost revenue it would mean for the city’s transportation department. The parking spots generate about $8,000 from meters during those months, he said. 

Brunelleschi’s restaurant owner Gilbert Vanderaa also spoke against the idea. By providing subsidized outdoor dining space to only a select number of restaurants, the city would be giving those businesses an unfair advantage, he said. If the city went forward with it, Vanderaa suggested that restaurants bid for the patio space instead of offering a fixed per-square-foot rate.

Mayor Mick Ireland was the only council member open to experimenting with the parklet concept over the summer, noting that the Hyman Avenue mall began as an experiment.

“Why not try it?” Ireland asked. “Maybe it’ll spread. ... Cities are not that good at experiments and we ought to be. We ought to be better.”

Councilmen Adam Frisch and Torre said they were open to the concept, but they both agreed with Vanderaa’s assessment that the parklet, as proposed, would be unfairly favoring certain businesses over others.

“I don’t think we need to do this as such a robust experiment,” Torre said. He suggested that if the city experimented with a parklet it should only take up one parking space and be moveable.

“I’m all for taking the automobile off the streets downtown … but it’s an inequitable application of an experiment,” Torre said.

Councilmen Derek Johnson and Steve Skadron agreed with Torre’s comments.

“I’m not persuaded that the perceived benefits justify the expenditure,” Skadron said.

Meanwhile, council gave the thumbs up to dropping the speed limit in the West End from 25 to 14 mph through the summer in an effort to slow traffic down.

Ireland suggested that the limit be set at an unusual number like 14 or 18 because it would get the attention of drivers.

It will cost the city about $30,000 to replace the 60 speed limit signs in the area.

Vanderaa, who lives in the area and has children, argued for the speed limit reduction due to the number of families living in West End homes. At least two neighborhood dogs in the past two years have been killed by cars, he said. It’s a matter of time before a child gets hit, Vanderaa said.

Richard Pryor, Aspen chief of police, said that the average speed of drivers in the area is already well below the speed limit. Most drivers go about 17 mph in the West End, based on a speed study done in November. It seems like people think drivers are going fast in the neighborhood, when in reality it’s just their perception, Pryor argued.

Still, council agreed that there should be lower speed limits, because 25 is too high for the neighborhood. Councilman Derek Johnson suggested that all residential neighborhoods in the city have a 14 mph speed limit.

Council decided to wait and see how effective the lower limits are in the West End, before considering a city-wide policy.