Parking management program to stay in Crested Butte

In what form is still to be decided

[  By Mark Reaman  ]

The Crested Butte town council members unanimously agreed Monday they are not ready to give up the experimental parking management program in town, but they are willing to continue tweaking it to make it better for residents and visitors. 

Council discussed the general plan at a work session on February 7 and felt the Elk Avenue restrictions currently in place that limits Elk Avenue parking to no more than two hours should remain. How to address side street regulations and parking permits might shift as it did last fall when council okayed letting cars have a free two-hour grace period for parking on Maroon and Sopris Avenues. Town staff and representatives of the parking enforcement company, Interstate Parking, said with that grace period decision and a better public understanding of the parking program, complaints about the system have basically gone away. Decisions on how to proceed with parking management are expected at the February 22 meeting.

The initial goals of implementing the parking program were to basically open spaces on Elk and try to get more people to use the primary public lots while leaving nearby street parking spaces for residents in the neighborhoods near Elk Avenue. Data collected by Interstate indicated that parking spaces on Elk opened up substantially as did spaces on the side streets as a result of the parking regulations. Permits were given to nearby residents and Elk Avenue businesses for their employees along with contractors who do work on homes in the area. Flower boxes used to “calm” and slow down traffic brought speeds down about two miles per hour on average according to data.

“The data doesn’t always support what we’re hearing,” commented councilmember Anna Fenerty. “I have heard people feel speeds are up, there is more traffic and it is many times harder to find a parking spot.”

Community development director Troy Russ reviewed how the data was collected and said he could share the raw numbers to put it in more perspective.

Kyle Ottinger, Interstate’s customer experience manager, said the company regularly monitored spaces to tabulate impact of the program and the data showed more open spaces on Elk and the side streets.

Councilmember Jason MacMillan asked if the two-hour limit for free parking was adequate. Ottinger said while winter patterns were different from summer, they have heard comments about two hours being on the edge for a dinner timeframe, especially if people wanted to shop afterward. Councilmember Mallika Magner said council should take into consideration people having longer wait times at restaurants given the recent dearth of eateries in town.

MacMillan said he has heard complaints about town money being spent on an out-of-town company. Interstate’s contract with the town is for $80,000 annually the first year but about $35,000 of that is offset through fines. Interstate partner Gareth Lloyd said the company uses two local employees who live in Gunnison and commute to Crested Butte by bus, so the majority of the town money stays in the valley. 

Councilmember Chris Haver said the company provided things like software that would be more expensive for the town to obtain and utilize so the Interstate parking enforcement option was cheaper than doing it in-house. 

Magner said some communities cease parking enforcement at 6 o’clock instead of 8 o’clock and that might be a good tweak to the program. Ottinger said the numbers show a parking transition beginning about 7 p.m. in Crested Butte. 

“There will be more congestion with more free parking,” said Ottinger. “That’s what the town has to take into consideration.”

“Implementing the two-hour grace period greatly simplified things for me as a resident on Sopris,” said mayor Ian Billick. “It made a lot more sense.”

“I heard a lot of complaints about the ‘clunky’ way residents had to get permission for their guests to park,” added Magner. “Can that be made easier, say through registering on the Internet instead of having to send an email?”

Ottinger said it could be done but would add some cost to the town. He said the company would look into that alternative and provide the council more specifics for the next meeting.

Fenerty suggested it might be even simpler if passes could be given to residents to hand out to guests but Ottinger said when it snows they cannot view such passes on a vehicle’s dashboard.

Billick asked the council to indicate if they wanted to keep the parking management program, get rid of it completely or tweak it. Russ said the town needed some parking management especially in the summer when restaurants provide outdoor street seating that eliminates parking spaces on Elk. 

“It took a while for people to get used to it in Breckenridge and now I can’t imagine it without it,” said councilmember Mona Merrill. “I’m more for tweaking it with an extension to two years.”

“I think the improvements to Elk have gone really well so I don’t want to go back,” said MacMillan. “As for Sopris and Maroon, if we want to be a more bike and pedestrian friendly town, that means less cars and that needs parking management. I’m not sure of the specific way to go ahead but I’m ready to stumble forward with it.”

“I’m interested to see how summer works with the Elk Avenue two-way and street seating,” said councilmember Beth Goldstone. “I’m ready to keep it with some tweaking.”

Magner agreed it was worthwhile to continue with some modifications and Haver noted that the tweaks made before winter had improved the system so he too was ready to maintain a program with adjustments.

“To completely scrap it would be to ignore an issue so let’s keep tweaking it,” said Fenerty.

“It sounds like everyone likes the management on Elk Avenue and we need to keep looking at the side streets,” summed up Billick. 

As for traffic calming, there will undoubtably be some discussion of the issue at the February 22 meeting, but a larger, town-wide traffic calming plan will take more in-depth discussion at a future time. Flower boxes will be put back on Whiterock next summer given an expected increase in traffic coming off Kebler Pass given continued work on the Highway 50 Little Blue Canyon construction project. How calming will look on Sopris, Maroon and the rest of town is not settled.

Council agreed to set aside about an hour for the parking management topic discussion at the February 22 meeting. 

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