Technology can keep an eye on your car
By Mark Reaman
Preliminary discussions have started about the concept of using a modern, smartphone-based paid parking system to ease traffic congestion and raise revenue in Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte.
To mull over the idea a joint work session with representatives of both town councils and the owners of a company that could facilitate such a system, Interstate Parking, was held on Thursday, September 28.
Crested Butte town planner Bob Nevins said at least nine parking/transportation studies had been conducted for town since 1980. The current goals of a citizen’s parking committee include finding ways to enhance a safe, pedestrian-friendly and bike-friendly community. They want less congestion and more use of public transportation. To achieve the goals, Nevins said, would take “community and character-based solutions.”
Crested Butte community development director Michael Yerman said the town has spent or budgeted millions of dollars to address traffic and parking issues in town. “But we cannot build our way out of the problem,” he said. “The parking committee feels one reason there are issues is because parking in town is ‘free and easy.’ We can continue to stay the course and add additional infrastructure or we can create a comprehensive and integrated parking management plan that fits within the shared vision of Crested Butte, Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte Mountain Resort.”
“We have a lot of tools in our tool box to help you accomplish that,“ said Interstate’s Gareth Lloyd. “Crested Butte is unique and it is beautiful and it would be up to you to choose which tools would work best here.”
Lloyd’s partner, Tony Janowiec, explained the spearhead of any integrated paid parking system would be paid “ambassadors” who would monitor parking and interact with customers. “They are often the first and the last impression for visitors when they park. We would create a team of ambassadors who interact positively with people and can provide information about things like restaurants and special events. They will make parking easy and fun.”
Lloyd said Interstate recently contracted with Breckenridge to set up a paid parking system and after initial hesitation by some, especially downtown business owners and nearby residents, the community is now firmly behind the system. He said the system pushes employees to no longer park in the core of town and instead use outlying parking spots. This opens up spaces in the business district for visitors who then no longer park in residential neighborhoods.
All the parking in Breckenridge, both in the town and at the resort, is under the umbrella of Interstate with a “common brand” to avoid confusing drivers. In the peak of winter, up to six ambassadors are working the streets to monitor parking, while in the summer that figure is usually down to one or two per day.
Parking is paid based on license plate numbers and can be done through a smartphone app or credit card at solar-powered kiosk meters. In Breckenridge the first hour costs 50 cents.
“The enforcement can be as hard or as soft as you all want it,” explained Lloyd, whose company monitors 65,000 parking spots in seven states. “We have places where there is no citation issued with the first violation and instead a positive ‘welcome to town’–type notification is given. We can deliver whatever the towns want.”
“Our goal is to actually write very, very few citations,” said Janowiec. “So it has to be a program that is unique to the community. The second element to achieve success is to have a lot of outreach—almost information overload.”
A permit system for residents and employees working in town would be part of the system. How much a permit would cost, if anything, would be up to the town. Again, license plates would be registered online to regulate the parking in particular zones.
“Everyone has to be considered for a successful program,” noted Nevins.
“One big thing for the parking committee was to protect the residential neighborhoods,” added Yerman. “The spillover from Elk Avenue to Sopris and Maroon Avenues has increased a lot the last few years.”
“One consequence of the program almost everywhere is a dramatic reduction in the number of people circling around looking for a parking spot near a particular restaurant. This eases congestion overall,” said Janowiec.
Yerman said guests of short-term rentals could register their license plates online. Spots for 15 minutes of free parking could be placed in front of places like the post office or library to accommodate quick trips. The app could also be set up to send push notifications to people who are, for example, parked on the wrong side of the street and in danger of being towed in the winter.
Lloyd said the technology could be used as little or as much as the towns or resort desired. The monitoring of the license plates allows parking patterns to be recorded and could analyze things such as where the vehicle owners who are parking at certain times are from. Advanced systems could be used to immediately inform drivers where open parking spots are available.
Janowiec said the towns didn’t have to use all the “big data” that is collected from the license plate monitoring, but it could be available if wanted.
A major goal would be to get more people taking public transportation.
Revenues could be expected to total hundreds of thousands of dollars a year depending on which entities participate and what rate is set for the paid parking. A preliminary estimate tallies the potential of raising $450,000 in gross revenues with $125,000 after expenses. Where those revenues are spent would be up to the towns and the resort. “Transit programs would be a logical place for some of it,” said Nevins.
“To be successful, we’ve found that the easiest way to effect human behavior is through economics,” said Janowiec. “The other element is to make it convenient for people to use public transit. For example, the parking might be free in the school parking lot with regular transit service.”
Crested Butte councilman Roland Mason expressed concern with pushing more people to already full transit systems like the Mountain Express and RTA without a plan.
“That involves another set of tools that are available,” said Janowiec.
“Having too many people wanting to use the bus is not a bad problem to have,” noted councilman Jackson Petito.
“What happens when Crested Butte becomes more commodity than community and you erase some of the reasons people come to Crested Butte in the first place?” asked resident Harry Woods.
“There is a danger of too many people driving in and around town and then Crested Butte is no longer a pedestrian town,” responded Crested Butte councilman and parking committee member Chris Ladoulis. “We would be asking people who use vehicles to help pay for the impacts of vehicles, the street maintenance, the parking lots. This would be meant to shift people to transit or foot or bikes. Think of both sides of this.”
“Paid parking doesn’t make sense without the technology to help the locals,” added Yerman. “Residential parking would be a good example of that. If we move in this direction, we would want to focus first on the residents and employees and make it work for them. I’m not advocating one way or the other but you have to make sure the locals are taken care of. But parking in town in the last ten years has gone way beyond marking tires with chalk.”
Yerman said not every neighborhood in town would necessarily need to have permits but those in close proximity to Elk Avenue most likely would.
Interstate would obviously be paid to run the system, with a management fee of about $77,000 budgeted annually. In Breckenridge, Lloyd said the parking ambassadors are paid about $19 per hour. Start-up costs for a local system would be about $187,000 primarily for the kiosk meters and specialized vehicles that read the license plates.
“This program is fluid,” said Nevins. “It’s not sticks and bricks like a parking garage. It is an opportunity for the two towns and the resort to solve this together and it could be a win-win for everyone. It is important for everyone to be involved.”
Janowiec said getting the community onboard with the idea and developing the parking policy is the hardest part of the process. Installing the logistics of the program would take about two months, he said. “There are challenges with any system but the question is how to deal with them. We have seen this work in many towns like Crested Butte because the system has to be designed in a unique manner for each place.”
Yerman said there would have to be a lot of community discussion before deciding to head toward an integrated paid parking system. He suggested both town councils formally discuss the idea at an upcoming council meeting. From there, broader community discussion would be needed if the councils supported the idea. “This is nothing we’re jumping straight into,” he said.
But the discussion is now under way and the citizen’s committee studying the issue will make a presentation on the parking options to the council at its next meeting on October 16. The council members said they were open to discussing the idea of a paid parking system for the community.