March of 2017 was below average in terms of precipitation, according to city records, snowing just 16 inches in town when the norm is 26.
One afternoon, sometime in the middle of the month, however, a fast-developing squall descended on the upper valley, turning the bare streets into something much more slippery. It caught many off guard who may have eased into an “isn’t this early spring nice?” mindset.
It’s likely that the teenage driver who took a left from the upvalley lane of Highway 82 onto Eighth Street was among those not mentally prepared for a return to winter driving. The driver apparently spun out and smashed into my 13-year-old Subaru sedan parked on the street outside my apartment. I got a call from an Aspen police officer who witnessed the crash.
The damage to the side panels of my car was extensive enough that, despite still being operable, the driver’s insurance company determined it to be a total loss. The good news was that I would be compensated for more than I could have resold the car. The bad news was that I would be parting ways with the vehicle that saw me through the end of college, multiple moves across three states and countless road trips crisscrossing the West. I may have shed a tear when I dropped it off at the wrecker yard in Glenwood and handed over the title.
Fortunately, the wonderful woman in my life brings her own vehicle to the table and was willing to commit to a one-car lifestyle between the two of us, and I couldn’t be doing this without her. This also would not be possible if we did not live close to transit in Aspen, where on any given day you are better off walking or biking anyhow.
The totaling of my parked car coincided nicely with the introduction of two services to my neighborhood that make not driving easy. Starting around 2017, it was possible to get a free season pass from the city of Aspen if one filled out an online form pledging to reduce automobile use.
In the summer of 2016, the city introduced the Downtowner, an on-demand ride service that is available within the West End, downtown core and east Aspen neighborhoods (but for some reason not Hunter Creek and Centennial).
The utility of many different modes for different situations has made the transition almost completely painless. The ability to use WE-cycle when I am stuck on the wrong end of a one-way trip on my personal bike means I was able to always be able to ride or leave the bike behind when it suits me. When riding, walking or the bus isn’t an option — say I have my dog with me at work — then there is always the Downtowner.
The Downtowner costs the city roughly $43,333 month, plus another $12,000 per month for the city’s contribution to WE-cycle — which also has private and institutional support from the likes of Aspen Skiing Co., Sotheby’s, Aspen Valley Hospital and adidas and many others.
That investment has saved our family the cost of a car payment and I suspect we are not alone.
Curtis Wackerle is the editor of Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @CurtisWackerle.