Average daily traffic at the entrance to Aspen declined 36% for the months of March through April compared to the same time last year, according to numbers kept by the city of Aspen, but car counts are beginning to return to levels approaching normal.
Unsurprisingly, the sharpest declines came in late March through mid-April compared to 2019, following the imposition of stay-at-home orders to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the last Monday of March in 2019 — March 25 — saw 22,827 cars coming in and out of Aspen on Highway 82. The last Monday in March of 2020 — March 30 — saw a 62% comparative decline with 8,510 cars.
Thursday, April 18 of 2019 saw 21,047 cars at the entrance. Thursday, April 16 this year saw just 6,570 cars at the entrance, which is a nearly 69% decline.
Counts through May, typically one of the slowest months in terms of traffic, are starting to pick back up and approach 2019 levels, according to data shared by the city’s transportation department, which has a car counter near the Cemetery Lane intersection. For example, Thursday, May 14, saw 16,155 cars at Aspen’s entrance, which was 20% down from the 20,238 cars on Thursday, May 16, 2019. Tuesday the 19th, with 16,646 cars, was 10% off Tuesday, May 21 of 2019’s 18,618 cars.
Looking at the days of Friday through Monday of Memorial Day weekend, 2020’s total count of 59,595 was 9.3% off 2019’s count of 65,725.
John Krueger, the city’s director of transportation, provided the following analysis via email: “The daily counts for 2020 were pretty similar to 2019 until about March 13 when the first public health order was issued. Then the counts dropped significantly hitting a low mid-April. The counts have increased with the re-opening of various activities mid-May and are increasing. They are likely to continue to increase with the new state and county public health orders.”
The bottom line is that average daily car trips in and out of Aspen for March, April and through the 25th of May are at 12,361 for 2020, which is down 36 percent from 2019’s 19,342, according to city data.
Generally, traffic at the entrance to Aspen, where Highway 82 narrows from four lanes to two to create one of the busiest two-lane roads in Colorado, has been on a downward trend over time, as more folks take to public transportation and other alternative methods, or bypass the highway using McLain Flats Road. However, no matter the year, peak-hour travel tends to be congested. Whenever more than 800 cars an hour travel through Aspen’s “S-curves,” traffic backs up.
Traffic tends to hit its annual peak around the July 4 holiday. 2019’s busiest day was July 3, when 29,106 cars made the trip through the entrance to Aspen.