City of Aspen officials said they “got the message loud and clear” from downtown business owners and have taken a controversial plan off the table that would cut 15 parking spaces while turning three blocks of Hopkins Avenue into a one-way with dedicated bike lanes.
A constituency of restaurateurs and retailers blasted the plan in harsh terms in a meeting last week facilitated by the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, but Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron said the community dialogue concerning transportation and mobility incited by the proposal has been valuable. Skadron has headed an initiative to bring a “mobility lab” to the upper valley that would see millions of dollars invested in new alternative transportation options and is of the opinion that peak-season auto congestion is wrecking overall quality of life.
City officials in January announced they would delay the mobility lab until 2019 to give more time for fundraising and planning. Summer 2018 would instead see a focus on policies intended to elevate two-wheel transportation over the car. The hallmark was the dedicated bike lanes through the downtown core, which would extend the dedicated pedestrian and bikeway between Garmisch and Seventh streets on Hopkins. In that section, cars are limited to one-block trips and on peak summer days, usage can top 1,000 riders.
The dedicated bike lanes using a barrier were initially to run from Garmisch to Spring Street for a total of six blocks, converting head-in parking to parallel, which would have killed 50 spaces. The street would also become a one-way to give cyclists more room. The city earlier this month said it would minimize the plan to three blocks ending at Mill Street with a loss of 15 spaces, but that did little to assuage concerns from business owners who see any parking deficit as an impediment to their customers.
“It just didn’t make a ton of sense,” said Wendy Mitchell, the owner of Meat & Cheese, a restaurant and small grocer on the “restaurant row” section of Hopkins that would have been impacted. “What I hear so much is that there is not enough parking. … Taking away parking overall is going to be hard in this city, because we just swell in the summer and the winter.”
Bike lanes and transit options not reliant on single-occupancy autos may work in some bigger cities, but such plans need to be well orchestrated, she said. While Mitchell said that she personally could get behind some of the bigger ideas of the Aspen mobility lab, she questioned if the majority of her customers would feel the same way.
While a future of ubiquitous self-driving Ubers may fundamentally change the current context, “Right now we still all are pretty tied to cars,” she said.
Mitchell said the city’s plans for Hopkins led her to become more vocal politically while dedicating time to organizing with her fellow business owners. “Whoa, that’s awesome,” she said, when informed that the business owners’ feedback had led the city to walk back from its plans.
Slow progress on mobility changes
“I got the message loud and clear — taking away parking is a no,” said Mitch Osur, the city’s director of parking services. “As good administrators, we should listen.”
Osur noted that out of 70 people in attendance at last week’s ACRA session, not one spoke up in favor of the plan.
The city will continue to do outreach, including three listening session at 10 a.m., noon and 5 p.m. set for Wednesday, April 4 on the Hopkins bikeway extension, parking and mobility options at the Pitkin County Library.
The council on April 24 is scheduled to discuss the bike lanes in a work session and hear more about plans for the 2019 mobility lab.
Mobility changes may require exhaustive community outreach, Osur said, noting the four years of planning that have gone into this summer’s $4.6 million project to upgrade pedestrian and roadway infrastructure at the entrance to Aspen. The city went through a “living lab” testing out a temporary version of the changes two summers ago before signing off on the permanent improvements.
“Sometimes it takes a long time,” he said.
He noted that examples abound of bigger cities that have successfully implemented bike lanes and more pedestrian infrastructure at the expense of on-street parking. Convincing people that such programs will be successful in a smaller town like Aspen can be tough, he conceded.
While the concept of bike lanes has been packed away for at least a year, the city is still planning some incremental measures this summer.
Osur is exploring the idea of placing bike lockers at the Buttermilk parking lot. These could be available to downvalley commuters who drive or bus it to the parking lot, then hop on a bike and skip the traffic back ups that will be associated with the aforementioned entrance to Aspen construction project.
Placing the bike lockers, which Osur conceded may be “a little ugly,” is subject to approval from Pitkin County, which administers the lot. Osur said he’s met initially with planning staff and is looking forward to the county’s review. He’s identified multiple sites around the parking lot, some of which are less visible, for what he hopes would be lockers for around 20 bikes.
He is also looking at more bike racks in town.
“I am getting direction from [City Manager Steve] Barwick that the whole city is under bike-parked,” he said.
The city also plans on converting the bollards and signs in the middle of the existing Hopkins bikeway to planters that will be lit for safety purposes. Officials may also tweak the stop signs at the Garmisch intersection, giving the right of way to east-west traffic on Hopkins.