Using a management system instead of a structure
By Mark Reaman
While no decision to implement paid parking in Crested Butte appears likely in the near future, the Crested Butte Town Council continues to discuss the matter and measures are being taken to prepare the town for that possibility. Council received the Phase 1 Parking Management Study report at the October 1 meeting and they will discuss the findings at the October 15 meeting.
Interstate Parking Company of Colorado has acted as a parking consultant to the town for more than a year and prepared the report. The company runs the parking system in Breckenridge and has worked with Vail Resorts. They said that when Park City was purchased by Vail the town saw a 40 percent increase in drive traffic.
A 2014 Elk Avenue parking analysis determined that based on existing parking there was a shortfall of 232 parking spaces in town during weekdays and a shortfall of 403 spaces on weekends. Interstate Parking spent two weeks in Crested Butte this past August analyzing the parking situation and it hasn’t gotten better.
While parking improvements at the Four-Way have added parking spaces, town planner Bob Nevins told the council that summer tourism continues to increase and the season is expanding. He said that the reopening of a paved Cottonwood Pass would make it easier to get to Crested Butte from the Front Range, as would the Epic Pass that would draw Front Range visitors to ski in the winter.
Interstate Parking general manager Gareth Lloyd said that when analyzing the parking situation in August the company saw that parking spaces were consistently about 92 percent full throughout the day, with an average turnover rate of 1.5 times during an eight-hour period. He said ideally the parking space utilization should be at 85 percent so there were always a few available spaces and turnover should be closer to four times per day.
Lloyd said a managed parking system in town could free up spaces without the need for a structure like a parking garage. “We have a toolbox of solutions for whatever the town would want to implement,” he told the council. He said with approximately 250 parking spaces located in the heart of town, increasing the turnover rate would essentially provide another 1,000 spots. “There is no need for this community to have a parking garage,” he said. “But if the trend holds true and the town gets another 40 percent increase in vehicles due to the Vail Resorts transaction, that would be another 4,800 cars. Where will they go? The reality is that things will change dramatically for Crested Butte this winter. Skiers are used to paid parking and honestly, the business owners in Breckenridge love how the system works there.”
Nevins said that increasing the use of mass transit is a goal for the entire north end of the valley and implementing paid parking in Crested Butte would be one way to help pay for it. “It can be priced to put the burden more on visitors than locals,” he said. “It is a sophisticated system that doesn’t use parking meters but rather some machines on the street or an app on people’s smart phones.”
Lloyd emphasized that no one would get a ticket with the first infraction but instead be given a friendly warning that actually would act as a “welcome to Crested Butte” interaction.
Town community development director Michael Yerman said that going from a 1.5 per day parking spot turnover rate to four times “is pretty huge. We all talk about education and the need to change people’s behavior but I don’t think that behavior will change without an economic impact involved. Is it time? Maybe. Maybe not.”
Lloyd said the company would front the cost of the system and hire local “ambassadors” to manage the parking. He said it would take about six weeks to set up and the system could be tailored to whatever the council desired.
Mayor Jim Schmidt said one big issue was that employees of local businesses tended to park in prime spots and he didn’t know where they could be shifted. Lloyd said in their recent study they noticed at least 25 vehicles that parked on Elk Avenue for at least eight hours. He said employees could be directed to side streets or places like the lots near the fire hall or at First and Elk. “The system is very flexible so as we analyze the impacts we can determine the best places for employees to park. The system will evolve with the goal to have an 85 percent availability on each block.”
Councilwoman Laura Mitchell said it was important to work with Mt. Crested Butte and the resort to guide the parking. Lloyd agreed and said it would be best if customers had the same parking experience through the north end of the valley.
Schmidt has consistently said that he likes the fact that parking in Crested Butte is “free and easy. If I had to pay $15 to park at the Four-way Stop lot I’d be upset and would want to hang someone. I’m looking at it from a visitor’s perspective.”
Lloyd said most visitors are used to paying for parking so they are surprised in Crested Butte when there is no charge. This leads to a lot more vehicle traffic on Elk Avenue that could be replaced through use of buses. But he reiterated the system could be managed to charge whatever the council wanted.
“We need to see a winter with the Epic Pass element but this is good to have in our back pocket,” said Yerman.
Nevins said before any council decision is made to go to a paid parking system, there needed to be a lot more public engagement. “We need more public dialogue on the issue,” he said. “But I’m glad we are being proactive with analyzing parking and getting ahead of the situation.”
The council will continue the parking discussion at the October 15 meeting.