Aspen OKs Main Street bus lane, street closures
pitkin county correspondent
Parking will be eliminated on much of upper Main Street next summer to create an outbound buses-only lane during weekday afternoons, the Aspen City Council unanimously agreed Tuesday.
The city will spend an estimated $100,000 painting new stripes and erecting signs on Main Street (Highway 82) next spring in the hope that buses will cut their travel time by a few minutes on the clogged artery as they head out of town.
Council members also agreed to proceed with the permanent closure of several side street and alleyway intersections with Highway 82 in the S-curves to help ease traffic flow through the two 90-degree turns at the edge of town. A right turn in and out of Eighth Street will be allowed.
But eliminating left turns off Cemetery Lane was rejected – at least for now.
The city experimented twice with the street closures and Cemetery Lane turn restriction – once in the early summer and again during a busier stretch of July and August. Traffic flow improvements were minimal, and the more traffic, the more minimal the improvements, according to Nick Senn, a traffic engineering consultant hired by the city.
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“Is it fair to say then, that when we don’t need it, it works, and when do need it, it doesn’t?” Councilman Jack Johnson said.
The closures and the bus lane will cost $318,000, according to estimates.
The side streets and alleyways could be closed in the next month or two – the move awaits final approval from the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Several council members expressed disappointment that the bus lane can’t be created in time for the coming winter season, but it, too, needs state approval and staffers urged the council to wait until spring, when snow won’t cover the newly painted lanes much of the time.
Traffic engineers estimate the bus lane could cut travel times for buses by 3.6 minutes, in conjunction with the side street/alley closures and the no-left at Cemetery Lane, Senn said.
“Let me ask, is a 3.6-minute gain worth a $100,000 investment?” Mayor Helen Klanderud said.
Council members concurred that it is, and several representatives of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority gave the idea a unanimous thumbs-up.
Klanderud supported only the bus lane, while most of her colleagues advocated the street closures in the S-curves, as well.
“I don’t believe in spending additional money when the results are that minimal,” she said.
“If you’re looking for the biggest bang for the buck, definitely, you should do the bus lane,” Senn advised.
“Admittedly, there are only minor gains, but I’d like to do whatever I can to make folks riding the bus think they’re accomplishing something,” Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss said.
Richards and Councilman Torre both left the door open to reinstating the turn restriction at Cemetery Lane, and Torre called for the reconstruction of the Cemetery Lane intersection at the highway in a “Texas T” design. It would have no signal for upvalley traffic continuing on the highway, but operate much as it does now for downvalley and Cemetery Lane traffic.
The Main Street bus lane will begin after the bus stop between Aspen and Garmisch streets and extend to Seventh Street, with buses merging back into traffic between Sixth and Seventh streets. Parking on the north side of Main would be prohibited from 2 to 6 p.m. and will be eliminated altogether from the south side of Main Street in that stretch.
If the city deems the bus lane experiment a failure, it has an opportunity to end it for free next fall, when CDOT will resurface the highway and could repaint the stripes back in their current configuration.
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