Undermining the central bargain of recent traffic planning
Aspen Journalism’s latest data-driven investigation started off, as these things often do, with a question.
Data Editor Laurine Lassalle has been tracking car counts recorded by the city of Aspen as part of our weekly Data Dashboard posts. In July and August of 2021, a citizens group was raising concerns with overflow traffic using neighborhood streets to bypass highway gridlock, and city officials were preparing to dust off a decades-old plan for a new four-lane entrance to town. But at the same time, the city’s data was showing that car counts were low compared to historic averages. These two things seemed incongruent: How could community angst about traffic be reaching a breaking point when the standard metric used to assess local congestion was not blinking bright red — and in fact, suggested that the problem has been under control since the advent of expanded RFTA service beginning in 2013?
Lassalle dove deep into that question and produced a story I think is the most comprehensive piece written on the upper valley’s traffic situation in years. Long article short, there are other factors in play that show a changing profile for local traffic that are not necessarily recorded by car counters near the Castle Creek Bridge. These factors include the cratering in public transportation numbers since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the most salient details in Lassalle’s piece was that while total car counts at the entrance in 2021 were just 0.8% below 2019, RFTA ridership is still down 43% from pre-COVID. Other crucial details include that the city in 2021 saw a growing number of residential construction permits, while traffic heading upvalley from Basalt set new records, according to Colorado Department of Transportation car counts measured in Snowmass Canyon. Taken together, the story shows that the central bargain of the most recent era in local traffic planning — that increased public transit options can absorb the impacts of growth on our roadways — has been undermined.
This leads to the ultimate question of whether the political winds have truly shifted from the pronouncement made five years ago by Steve Skadron, at the time the Aspen’s term-limited mayor, that “there’s no political will to prioritize development of the Marolt Open Space,” and that talk of rebuilding the entrance was “a nonstarter with the Aspen City Council.” To pave the “straight shot” or not was the defining political battle of Aspen in the 1980s and ‘90s. Are we about to go there again? What will be different this time?
Also in the last week, Water Desk Editor Heather Sackett kept up her dynamic statehouse coverage of water issues, tracking a bill that would require the implementation of a statewide program that would pay property owners to remove non-native turf grass in favor of landscaping that conserves water. Meanwhile, Tracking the Curve is showing local incidence rates returning to their pre-delta states, while the Data Dashboard is documenting every inch of surface-elevation decline as Lake Powell approaches the critical 3,525-foot threshold.
Thanks for reading, and supporting, Aspen Journalism.
— Curtis Wackerle, editor
Aspen in 2021 saw one of its lowest car counts in decades. So why does it feel like local traffic is at a breaking point?
Data reveals shifting traffic patterns
By Laurine Lassalle | March 6, 2022
Beginning in the last two years, the expectation that transit will absorb growth has been put to the test. Although car counts at the entrance were relatively low last year, other factors help explain why 2021 saw perhaps the highest level of community angst about traffic in a generation.
Turf replacement bill gains ground
Outdoor landscaping is largest use for some Western Slope water providers
By Heather Sackett | March 4, 2022
The drafters of House Bill 1151 say it is aimed at efficient water use and would increase communities’ resilience to drought and climate change, reduce the sale of agriculture water rights to meet increased demand in cities, and protect river flows.
Data dashboard: Lake Powell is about to drop below target elevation
Lake Powell could drop 2 to 3 feet below the target elevation in March. Snowpack at Schofield Pass has gained 3 inches of SWE since last week.
By Laurine Lassalle | March 8, 2022
• Lake Powell’s elevation down to 3,526 ft on March 6 — or one foot away from target elevation.
• Snowpack at Schofield Pass has gained 3 inches of SWE since last week.
Tracking the Curve
Documenting COVID-19 in Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties
By Laurine Lassalle | March 8, 2022
Eagle County reported eight new COVID-19 cases over the weekend, Garfield County recorded five cases, while Pitkin County added two cases.
Western Slope county rejects solar project over fears of losing a sliver of farmland
“‘Any time you have change, it is hard,’ said Don Suppes, the lone commissioner to support the project. ‘In my opinion they bent over backward to deal with the problems… Their plan to irrigate and continue to graze sheep was a great solution, a way to get multiple uses of the land.’”
Source: coloradosun.com | Read more
Utah rail line could bring 10 crude oil trains through Denver daily, drawing concern across Colorado
“Drilling for more fossil fuels is the wrong move as the American West suffers from a decades-long megadrought, record-setting wildfires and other consequences of climate change, Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes told The Denver Post. And rolling massive quantities of crude oil through the heart of this city, through the heart of the state, presents even more immediate risks. … ‘It’s potentially catastrophic on a number of levels,’ Godes said.”
Source: denverpost.com | Read more
Tribes along the Colorado River navigate a stacked settlement process to claim their water rights
“‘We do believe a settlement of Hopi water claims is a forever sort of settlement, in the sense that it has to provide for a future permanent homeland for the Hopi people,’ Fred Lomayesva, general counsel for the Hopi Tribe, said. ‘We see the need for water to be able to provide sufficient water for the future Hopi.’”
Source: hcn.org | Read more
Gorsuch developers sell slice of Aspen Mountain for $76.25 million
“The deal was recorded Friday and came less than one year after Norway Island LLC — a partnership including Jim DeFrancia of Lowe’s Development, Jeff Gorsuch and Bryan Peterson — acquired the same piece of land for $10 million from Aspen Skiing Co. in July. This week’s closing amount surpassed last year’s price by more than seven times.”
Source: aspentimes.com | Read more
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