Town remains nimble as new parking program evolves

Some love it…some hate it

By Mark Reaman

A family of four walked back to their car after a late Sunday afternoon lunch. The SUV with Texas plates was parked on a half empty block on Maroon Avenue and it had a yellow envelope on the windshield which the father opened as he shook his head.

“I saw that sign (to the west of the car) that said don’t park to the stop sign and I saw that sign that said there was no parking during certain times in the winter,” the dad, who didn’t give his name, explained as he pointed to the parking regulation signs on the street. “I didn’t see that permit parking sign. I suppose $32 isn’t too bad. I guess it’s worth $32 to teach me a lesson.”

Four weeks in, the new Crested Butte parking management plan continues to be a work in progress. As we head into week four, some love the program while others hate it. Most are still trying to figure out the best way to work within the new system and the town and parking management company are continuing to adapt the plan based on feedback.

Customer experience manager Kyle Ottinger of Park Crested Butte and the Interstate Parking Company is on the front lines. He said he handed out 209 warning tickets in the first two weeks of the pilot program. When things got real and the tickets came with a fine, he estimated 50 tickets were distributed in the first week.

“It is actually going really well. We are at a point where some residents are coming to us with actionable items based on the regulations. Our approach was to come in slowly and focus on the most obvious things first,” he said. “Our top priority is ticketing things like vehicles that stick out and present a traffic hazard or park too close to the stop sign hindering visibility. Then we deal with the residential permit areas and chalking Elk Avenue to get the turnover of cars downtown. The local residents have been really nice and are working with me and I appreciate that.”

During peak parking hours between 5-7 p.m. every evening, Ottinger estimates 91 percent of the parking spaces on Elk Avenue are full at any given time. Maroon and Sopris Avenues where the parking permits are required are about 70 percent full. He said the turnover that opens up spots on a regular basis is the most positive result of the plan so far.

Crested Butte community development director Troy Russ said that with just 70 percent of the parking spaces being used in the permit areas at peak times, the town will issue more permits. They will be contacting residents and some businesses, especially those like bars and restaurants that might have employees working after the last transit bus leaves Crested Butte, to distribute another 40 to 45 permits by the end of the week. An additional 10 to 15 permits will be given out to vehicles to use during the less busy non-peak periods. 

“Remember the goal is to prioritize the residents of Maroon and Sopris to accommodate parking, then accommodate the businesses and also channel the tourists to public parking lots,” said Russ. “Ultimately we want a program that utilizes transit opportunities more.”

Firsthand thoughts

One of the homeowners located near where the white SUV got the ticket said he loves the new regulations. He is now able to easily park near his house even though he and his wife only received one permit since they have a parking space behind their home in the alley.  

“The permitting system is not a perfect attempt at a solution to a problem,” he said. “But it is what is done in Cherry Creek and other places. My observation so far, is that tourists will do what they are told to do by local authorities. The locals are the vocal opposition to the parking rules. I wish the issue of speed had improved half as much. Everyone still drives way too fast.”

The town and council members have received several complaints about the new program and it came up at the last town council meeting. Resident Eric Davis said the program was the worst thing the council has done since the “Whatever USA” promotion. He said with limited permits, it’s hard for people to visit and he feels the plan favors tourists over residents. 

Mitch Evans echoed the thought saying the plan is rough on his house at the west end of Elk Avenue and stated the new rules feel overwhelming to him.

“Maybe there is a parking problem but this goes too far. Please make it go away,” said resident Jenny Veilleux. “The spirit and vibe of town changes completely when you implement this type of parking program.”

A local business owner said this week he hadn’t received his permits and a couple of tickets have been given out to his employees, which made no one happy. “No one is thrilled with it,” he commented. “But I’m too tired to fight this thing. I’m too busy surviving.”

Adjusting on the fly and looking ahead

Ottinger said his crew does consider appeals by people who got tickets. “We want to look first at educational opportunities rather than punitive measures,” he said. “As this goes on, it appears people are starting to see the benefits.” 

He said the trend appears to be that employees are primarily the users of the First and Elk and the fire hall public parking lots. Tourists seem more inclined to use the Four-way parking lot by the Visitors Center. 

“We have adequate parking in town, we just need to manage it better,” added Russ. “I’m cautiously optimistic this will work.”

Town planner Mel Yemma said the department is tracking the impacts of the program as it evolves. “We are looking at the utilization of the permit area. We want residents and workers to be parking there and tourists to be using Elk Avenue and the public lots,” she said. “We will be comparing the pre-management situation to post-management and see what the impacts are on the next streets like Whiterock and Gothic.”

Another element of the plan is to work with homeowners that currently don’t utilize their required on-site parking on their property. While they won’t be penalized this summer for not using the space, that will change in the coming winter. “It is time to correct the problem and we want to assist people with that,” said Russ.

The family of four that got the parking ticket? They’ve been coming to Crested Butte for 10 years and a parking ticket won’t keep them away. The mom made it clear the family loves the place. “What’s changed since Vail bought the ski area?” she asked. “We like coming here. We don’t want that type of Vail attitude coming here. We don’t want to see a bunch of changes happen to this place.”

“The learning curve can be painful and we are appreciative of everyone’s patience,” concluded Russ. “The goal is to achieve a more livable Crested Butte and a more climate friendly community.”

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