Parking, Elk Ave streetscape, alleys
By Mark Reaman
As part of the ongoing discussion over drafting a Crested Butte Transportation and Mobility Plan, several major changes continue to be discussed by staff and council. How to expand parking regulations and permitting to more areas of town, how to renovate the Elk Avenue streetscape, how to address alleys and possibly reduce parking ratio requirements for new homes, are all topics that came up during a council work session on the plan on September 13.
Council liked most of the direction with the draft plan discussion, but it appears the planning will take longer than originally anticipated and council made clear that there is no blanket solution, especially for issues such as how to best utilize alleys, when it comes to transportation and mobility in Crested Butte. The plan is being geared to consider actions over the next 22 years.
Crested Butte long-range planner Mel Yemma wanted council feedback on a variety of topics and she got it with detailed discussion over a few issues that originated out of a list of so-called “hot topics” compiled by the staff. Council spent a lot of time discussing the idea of a roundabout at the intersection of Sixth Street and Red Lady Avenue and calculated they could make a recommendation to the state over its preferred direction in three or four months. At the moment the council is asking for more information on the roundabout issue.
Parking management expansion
Parking management is always a hot topic and Yemma made clear there was no rush to implement a town-wide parking permit program in the next couple of years. She explained the idea was “to improve enforcement next year with the current situation along Elk Avenue and the nearby side streets.”
Additionally, the Center for the Arts will be implementing parking permits in nearby residential neighborhoods during events over 250 people, which was a condition of their BOZAR approval to increase their occupancy. The draft plan suggests evaluating in 2025 the parking management program regarding how permitting works and consider expanding to key areas where there are parking challenges such as Butte Avenue near the road to Peanut Lake.
Yemma said the draft plan also identifies the need to collaborate regionally to plan for park-and-ride areas south of town in places like Brush Creek and Crested Butte South. “To make sure park-and-rides are used, parking management in the town will play an important role in the future,” she said.
Councilmember Jason MacMillan asked if reducing the number of parking spaces required with new affordable or free market units could be used as a “carrot” to incentivize developers to build more deed restricted places.
“It is a very powerful carrot,” responded Russ. “We will look at using parking incentives in the upcoming in-fill study. But we are confident that reducing the current required parking ratios to match best practices in mixed use environments would work. First, we should decide what we want town to be (in terms of character and density) and use parking to get there. Things like a car share program can also be very powerful.”
Councilmember Mallika Magner said some of the current parking regulations are onerous. She said having to call in license plate numbers to the parking enforcement agency if an in-town resident is, for example, having a party that would last longer than the two-hour grace period was outdated, and she would like to see that go away.
Magner also said cars are a reality in the valley and have to be parked somewhere.
“I agree with the goal to get people to walk more,” said councilmember Anna Fenerty. “I see people drive from Clark’s to Bubble Wrap and then to Ace Hardware. I also like the idea of requiring less parking to get more affordable units. But each quadrant or even each block of town experiences things differently. Each is unique. It is important to talk to the people of each neighborhood to understand their specific situations.”
Councilmember Chris Haver said the current parking management plan was created to handle an existing problem of the cars on Elk Avenue and adjacent side streets. “I am okay addressing a real problem, but I am not okay artificially creating pressures to make people walk,” he said. “Let’s not artificially get rid of parking spaces like at Third and Elk. That’s a little scary.”
Councilmember Beth Goldstone said the perception of people speeding and endangering pedestrians warranted having fewer vehicles in town. She said with fewer cars, town would feel more pedestrian friendly. She was supportive of a slow roll out for expanded parking management.
Magner too was in favor of a slow roll out of more parking management. “The fact is Crested Butte is the North Valley hub,” she said. “People come to town from CB South and they will drive. They come here for the post office and the grocery. We can’t ignore that we’re the service center up here. We have to have places for people to park. I just don’t want to edge those people out.”
“I think increased transit availability is important with future park-and-rides,” added MacMillan. “When we do all these things it will be an easier conversation to have about reducing cars in town.”
“The problem is only during certain times of the year,” said Fenerty. “If we implement all these regulations and only enforce them certain times it is confusing.”
The council all liked the idea of immediately allowing bike and motorcycle parking in the new cross-hatched areas on Elk Avenue near intersections. They also wanted to prohibit bikes from the sidewalks.
Mayor Ian Billick summarized that the council was in favor of some continued parking management and wants to continue exploring options (like park-and-rides and transit expansion) to make it all work, but council does not want to move “super fast” on the issue.
Sidewalks and pedestrian corridors
Council was generally in favor of constructing sidewalks and pedestrian bridges in certain areas of town. The priority appeared to be installing a sidewalk between the Crested Butte Community School and the Big Mine skatepark along Red Lady and Belleview Avenues. Additional pedestrian bridges to complement the one on Butte Avenue were also suggested.
Russ said capital projects impact the cost of long-term maintenance and thus staffing concerns. He said there were major engineering and snow maintenance issues with a sidewalk on Belleview.
“That corridor is an important one to consider for sidewalks with the kids,” said Goldstone.
“Council feels Belleview is a priority to figure out,” Billick said to the staff. “We recognize it is a challenge but it is a priority.”
“It comes down to need versus want,” said Haver. “How much will the bridges, for example, be used versus how much it will cost.”
Billick suggested staff look at out-of-the-box ideas to create pedestrian corridors throughout town. “Focus on interesting ways to enhance the pedestrian experience. Certain alleys are used more than others. Locals find nooks and crannies that help them get around. Think creatively about how to move through town as a pedestrian and not just by following sidewalks.”
“How do we activate little used areas and embrace pedestrians and bikes,” said MacMillan.
“I love the nooks and cranny idea to make it better,” said Yemma.
“Are you comfortable developing a pedestrian-first trail system using critical alleys through town?” asked Billick.
“I agree with a pedestrian-first plan,” said Russ. “Be careful of the political expectations however.”
Magner emphasized the importance of not pushing more vehicles into the alleys. “I want to say upfront that the alleys are our refuge for locals when it gets busy. For me it is non-negotiable,” she said.
Russ dug into the idea of requiring all new residential construction to provide parking in the alleys. There are 53 vacant residential lots remaining in Crested Butte, mostly in the newer parts of town. However, Russ said all residential redevelopments of level 3 or higher (major remodel of a rebuild) would also be required to locate their garages on the alley. Given historical trends, this development would be expected to occur slowly, with between two to four units being built a year.
“Are you interested in being Arvada, Colorado,” asked Russ. “Right now we encourage development to go on the alley. I’m saying that allowing all driveways and garages on the street does not fit with the pedestrian or historic character of CB.”
“That is a false conversation,” said Billick. “It is not an either/or situation. We aren’t going back. Where are appropriate areas for this?”
“Not all alleys are created equal. It’s about the historic character of town and not just pedestrian routes,” said Russ.
“As Anna [Fenerty] said earlier, the decisions have to reflect each individual neighborhood,” said Billick. “I am open to some code change for some alleys but definitely not for all of them.”
Local alley advocate Angie Hornbrook attended the meeting and said she appreciated the council’s deliberation on the issue. “I definitely feel heard,” she said. “I appreciate the consideration for plans and guidelines for pedestrians.”
Resident Kris Pogoloff relayed that he felt the town was wasting money by grading the alleys.
Haver said the idea of requiring electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure for short-term rentals and hotels might be prohibitively expensive. He said as a bed-and-breakfast owner he’s investigated it as an amenity and found it to be cost prohibitive. He said it could also lead to more traffic issues as right now EV owners tend to walk because charging cars is not always easy. Once it is, EV owners would probably drive the car more often.
Fenerty said she is interested in further collaboration with the Mountain Express and RTA transit agencies. “That is needed in the context with a lot of these plans,” she said. “This is a big deal with a 22-year planning horizon so there is still a lot to talk about. I will say that being able to live in this town without a car is very possible and we need to enhance that.”
“I appreciate the regional strategic discussions,” said Goldstone. “And I appreciate being proactive instead of simply reactive. Doing what we can to reduce cars and traffic will make town feel better.”
“Budget, capacity and operational costs are all important to consider as part of the plan,” said MacMillan. “We need to be strategic with the easy things that don’t cost a lot, the low hanging fruit.”
“I agree that looking at the future is important but we need to move slowly and deliberately,” said Magner. “I also am concerned with the costs and the impacts these ideas will have on the people living in town.”
Billick said he appreciated the recent draft and how it had evolved as a result of feedback. “It seems we are headed in a good direction so let’s see how it keeps evolving with the advisory committee,” he said.
Yemma said the planning process would likely be extended and more feedback would be solicited from the citizen advisory committee. She said the staff hoped to have a draft back in front of the council perhaps by early December.