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City mobility effort could take cut out of downtown parking

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The city of Aspen, in planing for this summer’s alternative transit mobility lab, has been meeting with downtown core retailers as it determines how many parking spaces will be removed for the sake of new bike lanes, street activations and pick-up and drop-off zones.

Some retailers reported alarm at a preliminary estimate of between 100 and 200 parking spaces off line this summer. However, the city’s parking director, Mitch Osur, said no final determination has been made and the number could be much less, particularly if officials planning the mobility lab come up short in their goal of raising $5.5 million. That is the estimated price tag on the most robust mobility lab offerings.

“We are not going to take away parking just to take away parking,” Osur said. Instead, any lost spaces will be for the benefit of some aspect of mobility lab programming.

The mobility lab is an initiative launched by Mayor Steve Skadron, who argues that Aspen, especially in the summer, is drowning in cars. It aims to get more single-occupancy drivers to leave the car at home — or at least the intercept lot — by bringing a slate of new alternate mobility platforms and strategies to Aspen for a three-month pilot from June through August 2018. These include a mobile application to connect carpoolers; more services to entice commuters to drop their car at exterior parking lots such as Brush Creek or Buttermilk; dockless shared e-bikes; and micro transit services to reach people in neighborhoods that are not served by the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority.

The city has committed nearly $500,000 to the effort so far as officials barnstorm the country seeking to raise sponsorship dollars and in-kind contributions from other sources. Targets include auto manufacturers and telecommunications companies.

Osur said 15 downtown spaces will be converted to pick-up and drop-off zones for the expected influx of ride hailing and sharing services.

A potential parking loss could be related to a dedicated bike lane planned for Hopkins Avenue through the downtown core. The concept has two six-foot lanes running side by side, likely on the north side of the street, with a barrier protecting the bikeway from auto traffic.

Osur said it’s unclear if the protected bike lanes could share the street with parking. This city is also planning to turn Hopkins into a one-way for the duration of the lab, freeing up more room. However, this one-way plan is subject to approval by the Aspen Fire Department, which has its headquarters on Hopkins between Mill and Galena.

The city hopes to get an additional 800 to 1,000 people riding bikes for transportation during the lab. Osur said the dedicated bikeway is targeted at people who may not be as comfortable as everyday cyclists sharing streets with autos.

Other parking-related variables include the level of street activations that will take place. Ideas include an every-day farmers market, street games, book exchanges, performance stages and office and lounging space.

Businesses are also being encouraged to participate by bringing commercial operations onto the sidewalks and streets, in the form of outdoor dining or retail activations. But how many will participate is unclear. Osur that in preliminary conversations, some operators expressed concern about having to hire more employees to staff outdoor activations.

The city expects that the mobility lab may take some getting used to at first, but the hope is that by the second month, people who may have been frustrated about fewer parking spaces may come to appreciate the new offerings. Beyond getting more people out of their cars next summer, the lab is intended to help guide long-term mobility and traffic reduction strategies — so some of the pilot programs could become part of the permanent mix.

curtis@aspendailynews.com

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