Public comments on the Galena Cooper Living Lab project provided to the Aspen City Council at Tuesday’s regular meeting were generally unfavorable.
The living laboratory is an attempt to test parking and safety in downtown Aspen, and improve mobility for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers. The project includes a dedicated bicycle lane and the conversion of 44 diagonal parking spaces in the central part of the city into parallel ones. The city will collect public feedback during the project, which will be completed at the end of September.
“The goals of the project were to develop a holistic plan to incrementally improve safety and mobility in downtown Aspen by balancing priorities for all users—pedestrians, bicycles and automobiles,” said Mayor Torre. “It’s a living laboratory, which means it’s an experiment and a trial. This board is open to community input. We want to know what you think, any improvements you see that could be made. So I want you to know that we hear you.
The draft first appeared on the council’s table in February 2021, and work sessions and meetings with the public to gather input followed. The council decided on February 15 this year to implement some of the recommendations they had heard, leading to the Living Lab.
On June 29, Aspen city workers repainted the parking spaces in front of businesses along South Galena Street and East Cooper Avenue to make way for parallel spaces and a dedicated bike lane. The work sent shock waves through the downtown business community, and some business owners still worry about the project’s impact.
“I’m certainly for safety at the core,” said Kenny Smith, owner of Meridian Jewelers. “We’re definitely happy that pedestrians are using the city center and we think people should be able to access the city center on foot, on bikes, unicycles, scooters, whatever, and also by car.” … I understand what you want to do, but please don’t remove the parking spaces.”
Smith added that downtown parking spaces are needed for people who cannot physically walk or ride their bikes several blocks, and cars need to be able to access the downtown area. He also said he and several other business owners have begun collecting signatures on an informal petition to provide feedback from Living Lab opponents; so far they have collected 1019 signatures.
Smith was invited to participate in previous town sessions, but said he didn’t feel heard. Another local business owner said she’s never been invited to participate and doesn’t know of others who have. She added that she believes the Living Lab makes the core unsafe and worries about the negative effects on her business.
Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo also spoke to the council and said that as an avid bicyclist, he doesn’t believe Living Lab promotes safety in the core.
“As a sheriff, I don’t have a product that I can hold in my hand. My only product is safety,” he said. “And I’m looking at this living lab, and it’s not the safety model. It’s quite the opposite.”
DiSalvo mentioned a tragedy that happened at the corner of South Galena Street and East Hyman Avenue a few years ago and said Living Lab looks like more accidents waiting to happen. He encouraged the city council to take the opportunity to make safer changes and also suggested parallel parking on both sides of Galena and Cooper streets, with the bike lane somewhere in the middle. There would still be a problem, he admitted, but perhaps less so.
“I think this council needs to make a decision or go in a direction,” he said. “Are we going to let cars be king, or bicycles be king, or pedestrians?”
The living lab is in full swing and The City of Aspen encourages people from all walks of life to participate by providing feedback on what works and what doesn’t. More information on how to submit comments can be found at cityofaspen.com/1401/Galena-Cooper-Living-Lab.