Looking for the perfect parking spot

No one wants to be a meter maid (or meter butler) in Crested Butte. Fair enough. As chief marshal Mike Reily stated to the council on Monday, that job gets very little respect and a whole lot of grief.

The community service officer who dealt with parking regulations and loose dogs in the past was never the most popular student in the Crested Butte class. The few people who took up the job had to be endowed with great patience, broad shoulders and the ability to let insults roll off their back. In Reily’s words, they had to be “saints.”

There aren’t many people willing to be a saint for $15 an hour two months of the year. So despite a council desire to address the parking paradox with a saintly meter maid strolling Elk Avenue during the peak summer months with a chalk stick, that doesn’t appear likely. They are still looking for a middle ground between free flow with occasional chaos and strict regulated paid parking.

The council seems a bit perplexed by the parking situation in a Crested Butte summer and the lack of a public outcry. Lord knows, there are the huge days and weekends like Fourth of July and the Arts Festival where parking is a cluster that impacts pretty much every nook and cranny in town. On a regular summer day, Elk Avenue is full from about 10 a.m. to 7 or 8 p.m. and many of the nearby streets like Sopris and Maroon see an influx of white license plates taking up space. 

There are certainly minutes of chaos each day when the Texas Suburban stops in the middle of Third and Elk to drop off two families for an early dinner but for the most part it is pretty mild compared to anywhere else anyone has been in a crowded on-season. Most locals “get” that it is part of July when the money train is rolling to afford us ten months of high mountain bliss. It’s certainly busy and more stressful than May parking but it’s rarely over the top hell. I did see that someone online is peddling a few parking space rentals in his yard near Elk Avenue for $75 per month. Ahhh… I love the free market at work.

The question facing the council appears to be whether or not to implement a comprehensive parking plan in town—and that means paid parking—or keep flying with a Crested Butte casual attitude. The council had hoped to strike that middle ground by having the marshals be meter maids and crack down on scofflaw locals who tend to use Elk Avenue as their own private valet parking spot. Reily made it clear that while his officers would be happy to help reach out and have a chat with local parking desperadoes, there was no desire by the marshals to focus on walking up and down Elk to chalk tires, ticket vehicles and free up a space for the dude from Boulder with a Range Rover.

When I was on Town Council in the 1990s we too had wanted to address the “parking problem.” The town manager at the time quipped that the only “parking problem” in Crested Butte was when there were too many empty parking spaces because that meant no people and that meant no business and that meant no sales tax.

The current council doesn’t quite grasp why they haven’t heard a giant outcry from the locals about the parking problem. That old school thought might be part of the answer. So does the fact that the overflow parking cluster really is basically a six-week issue in the summer that takes place when most locals know to not try and get a space in front of the post office to check their mail.

The other public consideration is that to go all big time resorty and implement a comprehensive parking plan means to mirror the successful program of Breckenridge. Heaven forbid we should be like—Breckenridge? By all accounts, the paid parking program in Breck works really well. But as Crested Butte councilman Will Dujardin mentioned at Monday’s meeting, “It doesn’t really have a Crested Butte feel.”

So free parking and six weeks of some Elk Avenue parking chaos in the peak of summer tourist season will remain in place—at least for this year. And that’s okay. The “education and outreach” initiative from the town marshals might free up a few spaces by those local employees who prefer to flout the law and park 10 feet in front of their business all day long.

They should be aware that if this middle ground outreach doesn’t work, the council will probably feel the need to move to that comprehensive parking plan that provides an “economic incentive” to park somewhere else. So it would behoove the local parking outlaws to take a break from their prime parking spots between July and the middle of August unless they want to see the town implement that Breckenridge parking permit system next summer.

To go more out-of-the-box and help those locals who need their car to be no more than six minutes away, the council might consider installing a sign in the public parking lot by the fire hall that designates it is a lot specifically for employees of downtown businesses. That would, in theory, get employee vehicles off Elk with a convenient place to park in a place not many tourists would want to use.

Anyway, the bottom line is that the Town Council could probably hire a saintly meter maid for two months at $50,000 (me). Or it could go all Breck and like most things in town, we would all eventually get used to it as we bemoan all the changes. Or council could just stay Crested Butte casual and talk about it again in the fall when it isn’t a problem.

—Mark Reaman

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