Castle Creek Bridge experiment: Which is faster into town during construction — bus, bike or car?
The Aspen Times
The restart of construction on the Castle Creek Bridge last week went smoother than expected for motorists, though officials aren’t promising the same will hold true every day through the project’s planned Oct. 31 end date.
“From a traffic standpoint, Tuesday was a rough day,” City Engineer Trish Aragon said at the end of the first week. “It was the first day of the project so many people drove instead of taking the bus, and we had new flaggers and such who needed a day to learn the ropes.
“But we adjusted, and it was noticeable.”
Most significant to the improved traffic flow, perhaps, was the ability to allow two-way traffic across the bridge.
According to senior project manager Pete Rice, officials weren’t sure if two-way traffic was feasible during this phase of construction, but in fact it will be OK at times. Still, the commuter routes will flip around based on work being done.
Today and Tuesday, for example, the Power Plant detour will again be in place. (Motorists should check castlecreekbridge.com for up-to-date information; Rice said the plan for this rest of this week should be posted today.)
Another possible reason for the relatively smooth traffic flow is the way motorists are being routed through Aspen’s West End. With a notable increase in bright orange traffic barrels, cones, signs and barriers, cars seem to be following the designated detour rather than branching off to other streets.
“What we’re trying to do with this is keep motorists moving in a single line,” Rice said. “If you don’t have that, and people are going in and out at every block, you get a bottleneck.
“It just works better when we can get everyone to follow the planned route.”
Still, Aragon warns traffic delays and logjams might increase in the coming weeks as leaf-peepers make their way to town to take in sights such as the Maroon Bells.
“Traffic counts will go back up again, so I am apprehensive to say what things will look like,” she said Friday afternoon. “The potential for significant delays is still out there.”
In an effort to see if the city’s assessment of week one of this phase of construction on the Castle Creek Bridge holds water, The Aspen Times conducted an unscientific experiment Friday morning. Three staffers traveled from the Aspen Business Center to The Aspen Times office downtown via three transportation modes at the same time. Below are firsthand accounts of those commutes:
ON TWO WHEELS
For a person who doesn’t go past the roundabout except to play golf, I managed to do three back-to-back commutes into or out of town over two days, timing myself against others who were using a different form of transportation.
The upshot of the experiment is that there is not much difference when biking, driving my car or taking the bus — at least during the times I chose to come into or leave town.
It was only Friday morning’s bike ride from the Aspen Business Center that I beat my co-workers to The Aspen Times office on Hyman Avenue by three and five minutes.
We left at 7:45 a.m. from the Highway 82 and ABC intersection, with Jeanne McGovern driving and David Krause taking the bus. I arrived at the office at 8:04 a.m. Krause showed up at 8:07 and McGovern pulled up at 8:09.
I passed McGovern when she got stuck in traffic right around Buttermilk and at some point, I got ahead of Krause on a Bus Rapid Transit shuttle.
Other than seeing a few scofflaws who were violating the stage 2 water restrictions by moisturizing the sidewalk and swerving around a pile of bear scat, it was an uneventful commute.
On Thursday morning, I came into town via car at 10:20 a.m. The first time I had to actually stop in traffic was just past the roundabout at 10:22 a.m. I noticed a bicyclist veer off the shoulder and hop onto the Marolt trail.
When I pulled up to the office at 10:28 a.m., that same bicyclist just happened to be riding in front of the Times, parking his bike near the Wheeler Opera House. So he and I arrived at the same time.
Heading out during rush hour Thursday afternoon proved once again that the bus isn’t always the fastest option. My friend and co-worker, Dottie Wolcott, dropped me off at the Paepcke Park bus stop for the 5:15 p.m. shuttle. We were both headed to Home Team BBQ at the Inn at Aspen. The bus left the stop at 5:17 p.m. and arrived at the Buttermilk stop at 5:27 p.m. When I walked into the restaurant, Dottie was already sitting down at a table with a glass of wine in her hand.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
I remember a day in the spring when I got stuck on Highway 82 for close to an hour simply getting from my house at the Aspen Business Center to The Aspen Times office. It was brutal, and I texted some harsh words to Sackariason about the “stupid bridge.” She told me I should have read her story in the paper that day and avoided driving to town. It has been a bit of a running joke between us.
Now, with round two of bridge construction under way, her words spin around in my head. But, to be honest, I haven’t felt the pain — yet.
Sure, the first day of construction (Tuesday after Labor Day) was backed up. But I expected that. Since then, it’s been pretty smooth sailing for me, though I often commute at off times.
Not on Friday, though.
As part of the experiment, we planned the 7:45 a.m. departure to include prime time for school buses and commuters (indeed I saw plenty of yellow buses rush past me in the bus lane). I stayed honest, driving the speed of traffic up Highway 82. Until traffic slowed and ultimately stopped, right around Buttermilk. A RFTA bus or two passed by around this time (Krause was on the first one that went by, I learned) and I saw Sackariason whiz by on her bike. Dang, I was going to lose (and ostensibly be late for work).
But then traffic began to crawl forward, and continued to do so through the golf course stoplight, around the roundabout, across the bridge and right into town. By the time I made the detour and turned onto Main Street, I was driving the speed limit and cruising toward my office. When I pulled up — at 8:09 a.m., 24 minutes after leaving home — Sackariason was there waiting and Krause had walked in the door a few minutes earlier.
So, while I am not foolish enough to believe that driving to town will always be the right call, I take solace in the fact that it is not guaranteed to be an hour-long nightmare on those occasions I have to drive my car into town.
– Jeanne McGovern
ON THE BUS
Every bus commuter knows the key to getting anywhere the quickest and most efficient is timing: when to get to the bus stop and hoping the bus is on time. I take the bus from Snowmass Village (or Buttermilk lot) to Aspen at least four days a week, and many times every weekday especially now that school is back.
The waiting game played out for me during our Friday morning experiment. I planned to take the 7:45 a.m. bus from the ABC upvalley stop. While I was there at 7:40 a.m., the bus didn’t arrive until 7:51 a.m., just ahead of the scheduled 7:53 a.m. bus.
But during that six-minute delay there were long periods of complete quiet on the road since the backup into town did not extend that far downvalley. I also counted six or seven school buses that went by.
And while my travel time was shorter than the bike and car options, my commuter time was not given the delay in the bus arrival.
Myself and four other passengers got on (quick shoutout to the 20-something who arrived at the stop with a handful of trash she picked up on the walk). I started the stopwatch.
We seamlessly made the Buttermilk stop, and I noticed that’s where the traffic started to back up. It wasn’t about 30 seconds later that our bus (No. 432) passed McGovern’s car just before the Maroon Creek Bridge, so even with the six-minute delay to start, we caught the car option in 7 1/2 minutes. I never saw Sackariason on her bike, but it turns out we were on about the same pace.
The BRT did make a stop at the roundabout, but we did not stop at the Fourth Street station, so we had smooth sailing down Main Street. After a large unload at Paepcke Park, we pulled into Rubey Park station in 12 minutes, 53 seconds from the airport and with the three-block walk to the Times, I was in my office at 8:07. But add on the delay, and it pushed 22 minutes overall.
I don’t leave work most nights until after 6:30 p.m., when most of the outbound traffic is gone. The one time last week I rode the 5:45 p.m. local bus to Snowmass, we had completely clear traffic out of town.
Sure, there are times when you just want to get home, but the distractions of social media, music or a good article to read make the ride more bearable — unless you’re on the Local and the rope gets pulled for every stop.
— David Krause