Modest Ideas for Aspen

Aspen evolved organically. Unlike Vail, for example, it doesn’t have a prepackaged Disneyland feel. It feels authentic.

But the town has real growing pains, especially in the infrastructure. Some long-range planning is needed. Here are some suggestions:

Extend the pedestrian malls. In Zermatt, Switzerland, cars are banned within 5 miles of town. It’s a pedestrian paradise. We can’t do that because Main Street is a state highway, but let’s extend the existing downtown pedestrian malls.

It also would be better environmentally. When it comes to being “green,” this town talks better than it walks.

Raise parking-meter rates. We’ll always have cars, and they’ll always need parking. But parking in Aspen is like milk and butter in the Soviet Union. It’s government-regulated, priced artificially low and you have to wait in line for it — unless you’re part of the governing elite.

Let’s raise the meter rates to a level that accounts for not just the tangible costs to the town, but also the intangible costs to the people living here. And yank the parking-pass perks for government employees.

But at the same time, provide transportation alternatives. Actually, we already have two.

One is the little-used public parking garage on Rio Grande. Publicize it with a sign on Main Street pointing the way. Keep the rates there reasonable. Run a dedicated free shuttle every 10 minutes between the garage and the gondola, at least during ski season.

Upgrade the bus service. The other already-existing transportation alternative is the bus. Free Wi-Fi and heated bus stops have helped (though I noticed the Wi-Fi is already broken on many buses). Future upgrades should be aimed at service, not gimmicks and waste like concrete dinosaur eggs, fancy paint jobs and executive bonuses.

As for people who want to drive rather than walk or take the ample bus service, and want cheap parking right in front of their downtown destination, well, your lust for your car conflicts with your love for Aspen. You may have to choose between them.

Don’t build the “straight shot.” The serpentine S-curves on the west side of town are a traffic bottleneck. Good. If you want a “straight shot” through town, go to Vail, where you can speed through right through town on the interstate.

A light rail through the valley is sometimes mentioned. As a former civil engineer, I can tell you that’s not feasible because the traffic volume is far too light. It would wind up costing hundreds of dollars per rider trip. Moreover, there’s no reason to think that people who refuse to park their cars and get on the bus would park their cars and get on a light rail.

Build the Gorsuch Haus. The neighborhood around Lift 1A is ratty. Lift 1A itself is antiquated and, frankly, an embarrassment when we host televised ski races. Fix them.

Stick to our competence. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, City Council thinks there’s nothing too big or too small for it to manage.

So they dip their toes into the hydroelectric business with a tiny stream outside of town, dig into the geothermal energy business with a geothermal well in the middle of town, attend global-warming soirees in Paris at taxpayer expense and even try to dictate menus and prices at local restaurants. Disaster ensues.

City Council could learn a little humility. The utility companies know more than City Council about utilities. And the people themselves can be entrusted with their decisions of where to eat lunch and how much to pay for it.

Set an example with the city buildings. City offices are dilapidated and should be upgraded. But let’s be modest about it and set an example.

Maybe some oil baron doesn’t really need an 18,000-square-foot mansion on Red Mountain. But before you vilify him for spending $30 million of his own money on it, consider whether the city needs 70,000 square feet of new office space with a huge carbon footprint on prime in-town real estate.

Notice that City Council has exempted this taxpayer-funded Taj Mahal from its recent moratorium on development. Isn’t that a bit hypocritical?

Aspen is a monument to four generations of entrepreneurial pioneers from Jerome Wheeler to Walter Paepcke to Klaus Obermeyer to Chris Davenport. Let’s not turn it into a monument to bureaucrats and government waste.

(Published April 17, 2016 in the Aspen Times at

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