Mountain Town News: Can e-bikes help decongest the highway to Yellowstone? | SummitDaily.com

Mountain Town News: Can e-bikes help decongest the highway to Yellowstone?

Allen Best
Mountain Town News

JACKSON, Wyo. – Now come e-bikes and the question of whether they can ease the congestion of cars found in ski towns like Jackson.

The specific question at hand is whether the e-bikes should be allowed on the local trails normally frequented by pedestrians and bicycle riders. Or should they instead be restricted to streets? Jackson town officials will soon be talking with their counterparts in Teton County, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

An important distinction, according to the federal Consumer Product Safety Act, is 20 mph. That's the maximum assisted speed when powered solely by the motor of a low-speed electric bike. However, there are some ways to use a larger motor, allowing an e-bike to go more than 30 mph without pedaling.

Brian Schilling, coordinator for Teton County Pathways, told Jackson town officials recently that e-bikes have been called a game-changer. He sees great potential for their application in Jackson during warm months.

"It changes the way people get around town, especially during the busy summer months when they don't want to be sitting in traffic on Broadway," he said, referring to the street that is the main street in Jackson and the primary route for many thousands of travelers going to and from Yellowstone National Park.

Crested Butte may slowly ease into paid parking

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CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Crested Butte is planning to take a year to gather public feedback before moving ahead with paid parking in the town's interior.

The town has gone along with a committee's recommendation and has allocated $45,000 for the year-long study and a community outreach effort.

"The committee feels parking in town is 'free and easy' and we can't build our way out of the problem," said Bob Nevins, town planner for Crested Butte, according to a story reported by the Crested Butte News. "I want to get people out of their cars," said Councilman Jackson Petito.

The plan calls for paid parking along Elk Avenue, the town's main street, and other adjoining areas. Residents will get permits. The start-up costs if the town decides to go forward will be $220,000, or about the same price as paving a parking lot.

Broadband alone doesn't bridge rural-urban divide

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – Broadband is reaching rural Colorado, including Steamboat Springs, giving local governments there the same sort of internet speeds and cost as is commonly found in densely populated cities.

But there's still tension between urban and rural Colorado, says the state's governor, John Hickenlooper.

First, Steamboat's $2.2 million fiber optic trunk line, which is already providing substantial rate savings for the local hospital, municipal government and other participating entities that banded together in an organization called Northwest Colorado Broadband to underwrite the venture. The effort was assisted by a $748,000 state grant.

Tom Sullivan, the manager of Routt County, tells Steamboat Today that the cost savings are substantial. Three years ago, the county was buying 10 megabytes of bandwidth per second for $1,000 per month. Now, for the same price, it is getting 300 megabytes.

The next step is to create the so-called last-minute internet connections from the trunk line to homes, offices and businesses.

In a conference last week, Hickenlooper was asked about Colorado's diversity, and he mentioned the state's subsidies for extension of broadband to rural areas in his answer. Colorado's tax base is in its cities, mostly along the Front Range, so the broadband subsidies are being provided with city money.

"But yet it hasn't seemed to build a bridge between urban and rural Colorado," he said.

He said urban Colorado has a responsibility to people who grow food. "Our long-term sustainability is based on making sure we have a reliable source of food. If that whole world falls apart, we can support ourselves by the food and livestock we raise."

But he said that the response of extending broadband to rural Colorado has, in rural Colorado, been "lukewarm at best." Instead, within a year, it was, "You're still taking our water." Denver, he also said, has done a far better job of conserving water.

"It is a divide that I cannot figure out."

So goes Aspen, so goes your ski town eventually?

ASPEN, Colo. – Aspen usually is 10 to 20 years ahead of most other resorts in trends both benign and difficult. So it was with affordable housing.

The affordable-housing construction in Aspen began in the 1970s, and it continues. But there are new twists to the Aspen conversation. When will these new twists arrive at your ski towns?

City officials recently approved an 11-unit project at the base of Aspen Mountain, the first of three public-private partnerships for affordable housing to go before the town council this year. Roughly half of the 6,000 full-time residents now live in some form of deed-restricted housing.

Still, it hasn't been enough. The Aspen Daily News says that affordable housing remains "what pretty much everyone with a pulse considers to be the overriding social issue" in the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond.

One response, which is being promoted by a team that includes Bill Lamont, who was Denver's director of planning in the 1990s, is a valleywide taxpayer-funded entity to deliver affordable housing.

"With the power and economy of a taxpayer-funded special district, we will have the ability to leverage $10 million of cash into $200 million of housing," Lamont has said. But several local jurisdictions have indicated they don't want to be part of the proposed taxing district. Many such housing districts already exist within the valley.

The needs analysis is modeled largely on one done in Colorado's Summit County and for its towns: Breckenridge, Frisco, Dillon and Silverthorne.

Meanwhile, questions have been raised about whether the city's older long-term locals might be nudged out of their deed-restricted housing to accommodate a new generation. Mick Ireland, a former mayor of Aspen as well as a former newspaper reporter and bus driver, will have nothing of it.

He says city and county elected officials shouldn't even try to free up extra bedrooms by forcing retired affordable-housing residents to 'downsize' or leave.

"Those of us who bought homes signed off on deed restrictions that gave us permanent ownership, so long as we either worked after retirement or remained in the units for nine months of a year. That contract remains in effect and can't be unilaterally revoked, neither homeowner nor government has the power to change the deal."

But few of the affordable-housing residents will be getting out of the workforce, even if they are hitting 65 or beyond, simply because they can't afford to. "Most jobs here don't pay enough to create a generous retirement. Social Security? Hah. The average monthly check is about $1,200, the maximum is $2,500. Try living here on $30,000 a year," writes Ireland in his weekly column in the Aspen Daily News.

Two Vail hotels getting refurbished, rebranded

VAIL, Colo. – Vail has two hotels that have been getting refreshed with a total of 401 hotel rooms out of commission.

The Vail Cascade Resort & Spa, a property that went up in the boom of the early 1980s, has been refurbished down to the bathroom sinks. It's now called Hotel Talisa. Hotel owners said the intent of the redo is to move the property into the first tier of Vail hotels. What is required to achieve that first-tier rating has elevated over the years.

Across Interstate 70, an even older hotel, most recently bearing the brand name Holiday Inn, has been getting updated and will reopen this winter under the brand of Doubletree by Hilton.

The discontent of luxury in a high mountain town

TELLURIDE, Colo. – A hip-hop artist named Sam Muzaliwa is leaving Telluride, heading to LA to continue his career.

The Telluride Daily Planet says the artist, known as Samweli, has released five albums but has been lax about marketing his most recent effort.

"The life here is a luxurious one, to say the least. We're truly blessed to be up here," he told the newspaper. "It's so easy to be content, but I've been feeling so discontented, because I'm not following my passion."

Why Whistler wants to keep holidays separate

WHISTLER, B.C. – A Canadian holiday called Family Day currently coincides with Presidents' Day in the United States. But British Columbia, alone among provinces, holds it a different weekend. Why?

That's not clear. What is clear is that Whistler and other ski resorts in British Columbia want to keep it the way it is, unlike what is now being proposed.

Here's the reasoning: Whistler is already close to maximum capacity on Presidents' Day weekend. Hotel occupancy averages near 100 percent.

British Columbia continues to celebrate Canada Day, but on a different weekend. Before that weekend was designated with the holiday, occupancy rates were 70 to 80 percent. Now, they're in the low-to-mid 90s.

School districts struggle from Taos to Sun Valley

TAOS, N.M. – School districts from areas near Taos to Sun Valley are talking about cutting budgets, some more drasticly than others.

North of town, at the town of Questa, the school district has a $20,000 shortfall that had administrators wanting to chase out teachers and all others from buildings by 5 p.m., in order to save on electricity costs. The Taos News reports pushback from teachers, who say that gives them too little time to get their work done preparing for students.

If Taos has remained reasonably affluent, Questa, where the school in question is located, has struggled in the aftermath of the closing of a molybdenum mine.

Everything is on the table in Idaho

In the Sun Valley-Ketchum area, the Idaho Mountain Express reports "stagnant revenues and spiking costs" that are causing elected officials for the local school district to announce that everything is on the table. The newspaper describes a tangle of restrictions and rising costs. At the center are personnel costs. The school district has a relatively high number of personnel, slow enrollment growth, and hence, less state funding. Salaries and benefits constitute 80 percent of the budget.

War in Europe had shaped outlook of Vail's first doctor

VAIL, Colo. – Vail on Sunday afternoon remembered Tom Steinberg, the man some called Dr. Tom. He was the town's first resident physician, arriving in 1965, three years after the ski area opened and a year before the town was officially created.

He was 41 then but the most important thing in his life — and the most important thing influencing his contribution to Vail for the next half-century — may have been what he saw in the waning days of World War II.

Steinberg was not far off the Iowa farm where he had been reared and in a uniform, one of the first line of soldiers as the U.S. Army liberated Dachau, the German concentration camp near Munich. He later told his son, Erik, that he almost shot a German soldier, but the German raised his hands in surrender just in time.

But there was the concentration camp itself, horrible testimony to the capacity of people to treat other human beings in inhumane ways. That's what he saw at age 21.

Later, in Vail, as a doctor but also as a community leader, with several stints on the town council as well as other civic enterprises, Steinberg sometimes shared his war-time experience. That, said those who knew him best, played a large role in his thinking and in his motivations. He had seen the worst.

But he had also seen the best, the effort by America and its allies to right wrongs in the world. That was part of humanity, too. And that shaped his patient but clear vision for Vail.

He died in late September at age 93 and a half. As one speaker at the memorial service, he was a stickler for details.

The war had also given him the opportunity to learn to ski in the months afterward in Austria. Then later, the GI Bill allowed him to continue through college and pursue the dream both he and his mother had had: that he would become a doctor.

As a doctor in Missouri and then in New Jersey, he met his wife, Florence Ann Banashek, a nurse, who was the daughter of a Pennsylvania coal miner, the youngest of 11 children.

In Vail, they made an interesting couple. He tended to be reserved but was still very social. She had a sharp tongue and had no use for what she perceived to be phoniness. The medical practice there was tough for the first few years, but got better as he tended to both skiers and to miners and their families. A mine continued to operate near Vail until 1977.

Steinberg was also active in public affairs. As an elected official in Vail, he had a strong environmental bent. He pushed for open space and had a large hand in pushing restraints on the smoky wood-burning fireplaces that at one time were de rigueur in every condo, creating a valley of pollution during winter inversions to rival that of a big city. He was also active in efforts to clean up and preserve the quality of local rivers.

One case involved Solomon-like wisdom. A Wall Street figure proposed a land exchange that would have provided the U.S. government 2,000 to 3,000 acres of private inholdings within Dinosaur National Monument and other federal lands. In exchange, the U.S. government would have to give up 1 acre at the end of a street in Vail, along a ski run, for a new home site. Environmental groups figured it was a very good deal. Steinberg did not. He would have nothing to do with auctioning off the ski mountain to the highest bidder.

He spoke out, in the early 1990s, against Colorado's stance to limit equal rights for gays, and he stood firm on limits on guns.

If the war had shaped Steinberg's life, he helped shape Vail and, according to near every account, he left it a better place.

And that, said several people after the memorial last Sunday, was a lesson once again in how one life can touch so many others and in so many ways.

It has been said before. "Strange, isn't it?" said Clarence the angel second class in "It's a Wonderful Life." "Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"

Those Steinberg had worked with turned out on Sunday from near and far, from Taos to Jackson Hole, Crested Butte to Denver, their presence testimony to the difference he had made.