From the Highway 82 roundabout and Maroon Creek Road in the West End to the downtown business district, traffic in Aspen is an inevitable problem, prompting citizens and city officials to take action.
Since 1999, the city has been tracking the number of vehicles entering and exiting Aspen at the roundabout. While these figures cannot explain the total traffic crossing the city via other entrances, data from the city’s transportation department shows that the number of traffics is 60% above capacity this year.
“A lot has been done to reduce the accounts,” said John Krueger, director of the City of Aspen Transportation Department. “You had BRT with RFTA, you had paid parking, you have a lot of different programs like Recycle, Downtowner and carpooling, a lot of employer programs. So Aspen and the community have invested in all of these other things over the years, but everyone forgets that you go from a COVID year – where there was very little traffic – all of a sudden everything is reopened and everyone drives. RFTA was restricted during COVID and so now the buses are just starting to restart. “
With the exception of 2020, traffic in Aspen has always been the highest in the summer, particularly during the week of July 4, Krueger said. The busiest day this year was July 2, with 28,000 vehicles entering and leaving the city. This is just short of the record year, which was 2003, when an average of 29,300 vehicles passed per day and 33,600 cars passed on July 3, the record day for traffic.
Compared to 2019 – the last year comparable to now – the number of traffics is down 2% between the months of January and June. However, for the month of June alone, the numbers are up 2% from 2019 and July is also up, Krueger said. The entrance to the roundabout can accommodate around 700 to 800 vehicles per hour, and this year approximately 1,100 vehicles enter and leave the city every hour. This puts traffic about 50-60% above what the roads can handle, Krueger said, causing long backups.
“There is really congestion going in and out of Aspen back and forth,” he said. “Hourly counts are a bit more revealing in terms of delays, congestion and back-up.”
The busiest hours for traffic are between 7:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. for inbound traffic and between 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. for outbound traffic, Krueger added. Throughout the summer, traffic can be slowed down for almost an hour in both directions each day, he said.
Krueger acknowledged that 2020 is an odd year and that the data for this year cannot really be compared to others, as so few people enter or exit Aspen for many months. But now that people are returning to work and businesses are reopening, he has encouraged people to take advantage of the services available to them.
“People have gotten used to driving during COVID because of all the limitations, but those are off, and we want to encourage people to come back to RFTA,” he said. “Take the bus. You can avoid the traffic jams, there are dedicated bus lanes, you can sit there and read the newspaper or your book. You don’t have to deal with all the traffic and stuff; you take it. just the bus and let someone else drive. Much less stressful. “
Some people also use McLain Flats Road to bypass traffic at the roundabout and enter town through Cemetery Lane, Krueger said, but the town has less information on that entry. Counts don’t go beyond Highway 82, but the city sees around 200 to 300 cars per hour leaving town in the afternoon on McLain Flats. Krueger said he had no information on morning traffic, but guessed the numbers would be lower than in the afternoon.
Traffic figures in the city’s West End are not impossible to find, however. Aspen resident Mike Triplett addressed Aspen City Council at Tuesday’s meeting to ask the city to take action to deal with the traffic problem in the West Smuggler neighborhood. In January, Triplett launched a community group called the West End Pedestrian Safety Group, a collaboration among residents to build consensus and seek solutions to members’ traffic safety concerns.
“Over the past three years, in my opinion, the city has allowed traffic on West Smuggler to go from a problem to a crisis,” Triplett said at the meeting. “I think it’s a serious safety issue for kids, it’s a safety issue for bikers, it’s a safety issue for other dogs and pets. I have two children, my neighbor has children. At some point, someone is going to be hurt, maybe a child.
Thanks to a Denver-based research group, the West End Pedestrian Safety Group was able to conduct a study of traffic numbers in the neighborhood. They found that 2,200 cars and trucks crossed West Smuggler Street each day, with an average of 12 vehicles per minute.
Triplett asked council to consider converting the street to a pedestrian corridor or stationing a police officer there to enforce the laws. Mayor Torre asked to see a copy of the study and assured Triplett that the city was interested in having a conversation with the group in the near future.
The issue of city-wide traffic is not lost on city officials, City Councilor Skippy Mesirow later said. In downtown Aspen, Mesirow said he sees an opportunity to create a system that will bring the streets back to citizens, as it has become a hub for parked cars.
“I don’t believe our downtown Aspen is optimally configured for the lifestyle we want to live,” he said. “It’s time for us to get a lot more serious by focusing on people and the community. And the streets, frankly, are truly the community’s greatest asset. “
In line with concerns from the West End Pedestrian Safety Group, Mesirow said collectively we should care more about our health and mental health than how quickly we can get to wherever we go. The city is working to engage with community members and find solutions, he added.
“There are the next actions that staff and community members are actively working on,” he said. “If we are serious about solving this problem, we need to think holistically about the big picture… on how to facilitate both this and the safety of the citizens of Aspen. “