Maybe a magic wand can solve the parking, detours and Whetstone issues…

If only someone could have waved a magic wand that would have immediately taken me from my suburban neighborhood to the skin doctor in Montrose last week, that would have made everything so much easier. But it didn’t happen….

Let’s me first say that the official detour driving from Crested Butte to Montrose via Minturn and I-70 is a looooong trip even on a beautiful day. Having to take it last week, it confirmed again that central Colorado is pretty darn pretty but man, it’s a drive-and-a-half. Being able to take County Road 26 for the return as the sun set was a treat in more ways than one. It too was beautiful and brought me to a place relatively close to the valley that I should have spent more time in. It is remote, filled with wildlife and gorgeous. I was happy to have that option coming home and the CR 26  journey was a blessing.

The road itself is bomber; hardpacked and full of gravel and mag chloride, the Lake City Cutoff is a safe, easy alternative while the Highway 50 Middle Bridge remains closed. Still, it will be nice to have Kebler opened ASAP. But as I write this Tuesday, it is dumping like a sweet March powder morning, so I imagine the Y, Horse Ranch Park and the trees beyond are getting pounded setting back that opening another few days. If only someone could wave the magic wand and have the snow melt as it lands, and the road immediately be like CR 26 by this weekend. Alas…

If only someone could wave a magic wand and make it so that all the people that use Crested Butte as a North Valley service hub didn’t need wheels to get into town. I would love it if the streets were absent of cars and instead were places dedicated to warm naps by the local dogs. But…. 

I appreciate the Crested Butte town council taking a bit more time to listen to public comments and think about how to deal with proposed parking changes for next winter that will have a regional impact. The most drastic proposed change remains making it hard for people to park on the streets near some of the Mountain Express bus stops along Sixth Street longer than two hours during the ski season. That move would essentially take away about 120 spaces for locals living outside CB who admittedly use the area as a park-and-ride to catch a few laps on the ski hill. The town insists there is plenty of free parking inside the Four-way Visitor Center parking lot and that is true most of the time, but not all the time. There will be times the move to push people away from parking near public transportation will be a pain in the butt. 

Some on council feel implementing the punitive action to make people change their habits is worth it to get more people to utilize mass transit before they drive into town. Call me crazy but making it harder for people, particularly working locals who use the proven winter mass transit system to hop on the reliable ski shuttle bus, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. And the argument that the action basically forces other partners to have to act seems like choosing aggressiveness over collaboration. 

Monday’s council discussion was a positive step on the issue. Council agreed to keep listening to people and consider ideas that accommodate those who live in the valley. Ideas in that realm included having locals be able to register their vehicles with Interstate Parking and the town and not get ticketed if they park longer than two hours in the spaces along, say, Teocalli or Gothic Avenues near the Mountain Express bus stops. Part of that would include gathering data to see how many out-of-town visitors are using Crested Butte parking spaces instead of CBMR parking spots when hitting the resort. That is good information to have as a broader parking and transportation plans begins to form. It might also address the urban myth that Mt. Crested Butte lodging properties are sending overflow vehicles to park in Crested Butte…because the parking regs are so easy to understand and navigate in the winter? Another idea is to not just throw cars into the school parking lot on busy weekends and have people make their way to the Clark’s bus stop, but to have Mountain Express include that lot on its regular rounds during the busy times. It was pointed out that that could actually make the lot a desirable place to park on a powder day since it can be easier to score a seat on the bus before it reaches the crowded Four-Way.

Make no mistake…the town’s ultimate aspiration is to drastically reduce the number of cars in Crested Butte. That’s a good goal that in my view doesn’t yet align with current realities. But over the next many years you can expect more parking permits in more places all over CB. And while the town staff contends there is plenty of mass transit opportunity to make most of the shift now, I don’t see it. I will agree with staff who mentioned Monday the town “can take smaller steps” over time to reach its ultimate goals. By expanding bus service even more, providing public park-and-ride intercept lots at places like CB South and Brush Creek, designing the upcoming Whetstone housing project to include super easy and safe bus options, the fewer cars in town goal could work. That is just a matter of money or maybe a magic wand…

Speaking of Whetstone and money or magic wands…

The county is diligently trying to get its ducks in a row to break ground on the 250-unit affordable housing project near Brush Creek Road by next spring. Details are still being worked out with the town about how to best provide water and sewer services to the site. How to pay for the estimated $130 million project is not yet settled. The county is clear that it is willing to proceed with or without the roundabout and pedestrian underpass that would provide good access to RTA buses on Highway 135 for the hundreds of residents who would be living in Whetstone. 

The idea of proceeding without that roundabout and underpass seems dodgy to me. While I too wish a magic wand could be waved to make the whole project cheap and super affordable, not including that transit element as a part of the core project is a short-term housing fix that would result in major long-term headaches. Adding several hundred more residents two miles south of CB without immediately giving them an easy, safe and convenient way to get into town on mass transit will exacerbate the parking issues the town is currently struggling with. That transit plan, in my opinion, should be considered part of the essential infrastructure of Whetstone just like roads and sewer.

A CB town council member on Monday lamented and warned that there are too many cars clogging the streets in town even during the slowest time of offseason. Huh? While there are definitely more cars parked in CB this April and May than in say 1988, it’s not over the top especially given that the cars are mostly, if not all, being driven by the treasured locals who make up a growing community. A glance at Elk Ave. during a snowy, blowy Tuesday showed clusters of cars centered around the few businesses that are open this time of year, but no one would have a problem finding a space to park. 

Look, if a magic wand could be waved to eliminate all the issues we are facing as more and more people choose to actually call the North Valley home, that would be great. If I could click my heels three times and wave the magic wand to return to the pace that allows the local puppies to take a nap in the middle of the street in May, I’d do it at Third and Elk every time the noon whistle goes off. That isn’t going to happen. So thoughtful, deliberate and realistic strategies need to be pursued as the place continues to grow and change…because the place is continuing to grow and change and I’m not seeing any magic wand.

—Mark Reaman

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