A sampling of Aspen residents will be asked their opinions on potential entrance to Aspen options in a direct-mail survey going out later this fall.

Aspen City Council members on Tuesday approved $12,000 in funding for the survey, which will be sent to a random sampling of about 1,400 registered Aspen voters.

The city is trying to determine what, if anything, should be done about the congestion-inducing S-curves that all cars must pass through to get in and out of Aspen.

It’s been an ongoing community issue for decades, with dozens of public votes held on potential solutions but with no real consensus ever reached.

Council indicated its preference for a survey this summer as opposed to a question or a series of questions on this November’s ballot.

No money is currently available to build any entrance to Aspen projects, but one of City Council’s top 10 stated goals for the year is to “determine the next steps regarding the entrance to Aspen ... [and] winnow the alternatives to those with community support.”

City officials presented a rough draft of a survey Tuesday with the following entrance options:

• The “modified direct.” This — the only alternative that has passed all the required environmental impact analyses — would be a new four-lane road across the Marolt Open Space, bypassing the S-curves and connecting with Main Street at Seventh Street. Sub-options within the category include an unrestricted four-lane road, two lanes reserved for busses and/or high occupancy vehicles (HOV) and two lanes reserved for a light rail system.

• The “split shot.” This would keep the S-curves and would build a new two-lane road across Marolt. Each two-lane alignment would become one-way, reconnecting near Cemetery Lane.

• Expand the existing alignment by building one additional lane onto the Castle Creek Bridge.

• Expand the existing alignment with two more lanes on the bridge.

• Aerial connection. A gondola system linking downtown Aspen with either Buttermilk or the airport.

• Build nothing. Leave the S-curves the way they are and increase other traffic demand management measures such as bus service.

Council asked for a five- to seven-question survey hitting each of those options. Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland said the questions should be worded to ask people if they could live with the options, as opposed to what is their favorite.

“Maybe there is no solution people can live with,” Ireland said. “If that’s the case, we shouldn’t go through the brain damage” of elections and more money for studies.

Based on the city’s experience with the annual community satisfaction survey, 1,400 surveys sent out should net about 360 responses, which is a statistically valid sampling of the community.

The surveys will be sent out after the November election but before the new year.

Casual carpooling?

Numerous other transportation-related topics were on Tuesday’s agenda, including a potential new program to encourage carpooling.

“Dynamic carpooling,” also known as “casual carpooling,” and resembling institutionalized hitch hiking, is a system that has become popular in large cities with congestion problems such as San Francisco and Washington D.C.

The system sets up specific areas where people with room in their cars pick up people who don’t want to drive. The concept requires a common destination for the commuters. It also helps when there is an incentive for solo drivers to pick up strangers, such as free parking or bridge tolls for car-poolers, or the availability of an HOV lane.

Aspen’s transportation department is considering setting up such a program at the Brush Creek Intercept Lot. That way, downvalley commuters could drop off their cars and hop in with other drivers who stop by to pick people up. There would be an incentive because carpools get passes to park for free in certain areas of downtown Aspen.

The city is considering moving the transportation kiosk from the airport to the intercept lot, which would make it easier to pick up the carpool permits for the casual car-poolers.

City involvement in the effort would be limited to marketing the effort and possibly moving the kiosk.

“We need to look at [the city’s] liability if you pick up the guy with the ax and the six-pack of Bud Light,” Ireland said.

Bike sharing program gets green light

WE-cycle, a private business looking to establish a bike-sharing program in Aspen, got conceptual approval from City Council on Tuesday.

The program would charge users to pick up a bike from one of six kiosks around downtown, allowing users to return the bikes to any of the kiosks. The fee is structured to encourage rental for just an hour or two.

After four hours, the fee becomes 50 percent more expensive than the average cost to rent a bike for four hours from an Aspen bike shop, said Philip Jeffreys of  Aspen, who is hoping to start the program along with his wife, Mirte Mallory. The bikes also are heavier and have fewer gears than a standard bike from a rental shop.

Council said it would be willing to accept a $3,000 payment from WE-cycle to convert one parking space at the corner of Galena Street and Hopkins Avenue, in front of the Christian Dior boutique. It also will waive fees to set up other kiosks on sidewalk space, which would total about $6,000. 

Jeffreys said he needs to sell about $500,000 worth of advertising, which will go on the bikes and on the kiosks, to cover the capital costs. Advertising will be placed on bike baskets and on signs at the kiosks.

WE-cycle aims to debut next summer. Jeffreys’ ultimate hope is that people who drive to Aspen for work just so they can make short side trips around town in their cars will consider public transportation and use the bike exchange for their errand needs. The program also is likely to be popular with tourists, he said.

“I hope this is a game changer,” Jeffreys said.

curtis@aspendailynews.com