How about another 75 of these? | AspenTimes.com

How about another 75 of these?

Carolyn Sackariason

Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times

A proposal from Aspen City Hall to expand paid parking into residential neighborhoods is, at this point, a half-baked idea. That’s why officials scrapped the plan late in September. But rest assured that the cooks in City Hall are concocting other recipes designed to have the same “leave your car at home” effect.An ordinance to expand paid parking three blocks in every direction off the downtown core was expected to go to the City Council on Oct. 9. But officials made an eleventh-hour decision to pull the idea because, as city staffers said, it wasn’t “fully cooked.”Keenly aware of the public opposition to the plan, council members didn’t appear to entirely understand the motivations behind it. And in some respects, neither did transportation staffers who brought the proposal forward.When pressed to explain the reasoning behind the paid-parking expansion, officials shifted their positions and explanations. They cited the need to generate revenue and make the transportation and parking system pay for itself. City Hall memos highlighted the need to eliminate motorists’ ability to move their cars every two hours to avoid getting a ticket in residential zones. Paid parking also would serve as an auto disincentive and would reduce traffic, officials argued.The council appeared to support the idea a month ago, but as public outcry grew louder, city officials backed off and started asking pointed questions.

“With all of the council members’ questions, it was clear that this wasn’t ready to move forward,” said Assistant City Manager Randy Ready. “Everything’s on hold.”Many residents wonder why their government would make it even more difficult and costly to live and work in Aspen. The expansion of paid parking feels to them like one more assault on the work force, and, as a result, some residents wonder if they made a mistake voting for their current elected leaders.Mayor Mick Ireland said it’s imperative to reduce traffic congestion and get people to use mass transit. And the people who choose to drive should pay for the transportation system instead of the taxpayers at large, Ireland argues.In other words, convenience should come at a price.

While longtime residents shake their heads in frustration, government officials are pursuing alternatives to the paid-parking expansion that they intend to roll out next year.The final decision might be to install 70 to 75 new pay stations in neighborhoods, forcing people to pay to park in roughly 1,500 spaces that are currently free. Residents on those streets, car-poolers and drivers of hybrid electric cars would be exempt.Other ideas include creating “value pricing” for motorists who choose to drive into town. Parking costs would fluctuate based on the time of season and day, with peak hours being more expensive. A similar program is used in London, Ready said.Officials will explore high-tech solutions, one of which is to have all motorists’ license plates scanned and put into the parking enforcement database. Then, cars would be tracked on how often they are parking in particular areas. Not unlike debit cards or toll road programs, drivers could be charged and billed for each time they park their car. Prepayment would be an option. Residents also could be credited up to $.50 a day not to drive, which could offset the costs of when they do drive.Another option could be having parking enforcement officers scan people’s license plates, monitor their movements, and prohibit them from parking in the same zone for more than two hours a day.Whatever the Council chooses, some auto-disincentive program will likely happen next year after the exclusive bus lanes between Buttermilk and the roundabout are opened, which is expected in fall 2008. Since those bus lanes are expected to shorten the length of a bus ride into Aspen, officials see the lanes as a “carrot” to accompany the “stick” of paid parking.But there’s no guarantee of expanded bus service beyond the dedicated lanes at the Entrance to Aspen. The transportation fund is broke, officials say, and will soon operate at a deficit as rising costs outpace revenue.Critics say the plan is all stick and no carrot.”The carrot is not there,” said Augie Reno, a former City Councilman who voted in 1995 against paid parking in the commercial core. “I would vote against it again today.”

One of the goals in City Hall is to make the transportation fund self-sufficient. Without some new source of revenue, officials expect a shortfall in the fund of between $1.6 million and $2.2 million every year through 2014. City Hall this year will pay the Roaring Fork Transit Authority $4.1 million to provide nine free bus routes within town. But costs are rising at least 6 percent a year, and revenue is expected to increase by only 3.5 percent. And it’s going to take $2 million to fix the Rio Grande parking garage roof, among other capital expenses, Ready said.City officials have several moneymaking ideas to balance the transportation fund. The expansion of paid parking would cost $950,000 to implement, but would generate $240,000 a year in revenue. The council also is expected to approve a 30 percent fee increase across the board for all paid parking in town, including the Rio Grande Parking Plaza. That will yield nearly $536,000 a year.Revenue from the current paid-parking program will bring in about $2.5 million this year, which covers operating costs for the Rio Grande garage, the parking department and some transit services. The city’s share of the 1 percent countywide transit tax and half of the 1 percent city lodging tax combined generates a little more than $3.5 million for city bus service.”Initially when both of these revenue sources were established, they were thought to be enough to cover the anticipated cost of transit,” wrote the city’s director of transportation John Krueger in a July memo to the City Council. “But several events such as 9/11 and the following economic slowdown caused collections to be well below projections.”Adding in labor costs and capital expenses, the transportation fund balance is off millions of dollars – if city government doesn’t subsidize transit services.That’s better than making those who can least afford it – Aspen’s work force – pay for buses and alternative forms of transit, according to former City Councilwoman Georgeann Waggaman, who voted for paid parking but does not favor expanding it.”It’s laudable that the city wants to make the transportation department sustainable,” she said. “But sometimes that’s not possible, and that’s why we have a general fund.”Instead of dipping into the general fund, the current administration would rather generate the money from outside sources.In addition to raising parking fees, officials will ask voters this fall to apply a 2.1 percent tax on construction and building materials, and institute a 0.15 percent sales tax.The 2.1 percent construction-use tax is expected to generate between $1.6 million and $1.8 million every year and would go into effect Jan. 1, 2008, if passed. The new 0.15 percent sales tax would generate about $870,000 annually and would take effect in September 2009, if passed, when the current .25 percent sales tax for parking expires.”Theoretically, there should be a surplus and any excess would go to transit,” Ready told The Aspen Times last month. He added that it would be only in a surplus situation that any bus route would be increased throughout town.

The neighborhoods located directly outside the commercial core serve primarily as free parking for workers, residents and tourists.Many commuters choose to drive simply because the free two-hour parking exists. Others must drive because they are electricians, massage therapists, maids and other service workers who need their cars to travel to many destinations with their equipment. Some people have children coming and going from schools and after-school activities, and errands need to be done. Between fares and time spent, doing day-to-day business in and around Aspen on a bus can be just as costly as driving.That’s why hundreds of people take advantage of free parking, one of the last worker-friendly offerings left in Aspen. But, when commuters park in two-hour zones and then simply move their cars periodically through the day, officials see it as an abuse of the system.”The current enforcement practice involves staggered routes and schedules in order to create unpredictability and discourage a shuffling of vehicles every two hours,” wrote Tim Ware, director of parking and transportation, in a memo to the City Council. “Even with that effort, it is estimated that over 50 percent of the vehicles in two-hour residential parking areas are simply moving their vehicles when they are chalked. This results in increased traffic and parking congestion and a reduction in potential transit ridership.”The purpose of the current residential parking regime was to prevent spillover parking from the commercial core once paid parking was enacted in 1995. But two-hour parking is something residents – whether they are working or doing errands in town – have come to rely on.”I don’t understand why they want to make it more difficult to work and live here,” said longtime resident Janine Troutman. “All it does is make it even more expensive. Don’t they get it? They are pushing people out.”

The transportation and parking department is charged with developing programs that meet the Aspen Area Community Plan’s goal of capping traffic at 1993 levels. Expanding paid parking, or instituting auto-disincentive programs not yet fully considered, are certainly measures that would help reach that goal. However, transportation officials say paid parking is considered one of the most effective auto disincentives.”[The motivation] always has been a transportation demand measure to decrease the amount of traffic coming into town,” Ready said. But Terry Hale, an organizer who fought against paid parking in the 1990s, said reaching the goal is not attainable, and all the measures put into place are merely distractions from the real problem – a lack of available parking.”It’s a very altruistic concept to take traffic levels back 13 years but whether you charge for parking or not, it has no impact on the number of parking spaces there are,” he said. “The main emphasis is on reducing those levels and making driving a car as miserable as possible …”They keep making it unpleasant for people to get in their cars and certainly that’s their philosophy.”After decades of watching city government make decisions aimed at deterring the automobile, Hale said he’s convinced it’s done in an attempt to limit development by arguing that Aspen “can’t handle one more person or one more bedroom.””They want to reduce the size of Aspen to the way it was in some year way back when,” he said. “All of this stuff, paid parking, is one giant distraction.”

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The expansion of paid parking was introduced by transportation officials in 2006, and it was rejected by the City Council 3-2. Former Mayor Helen Klanderud voted against the ordinance, which was the same as the one just reviewed and scrapped by the current City Council.”There was great deal of outcry from people who work in town,” she said. “I was sensitive to those who work in town, and I felt there was a better solution without making everybody angry.”She argues that expanded paid parking and increased rates alienate the work force.”It penalizes those who can least afford it,” Klanderud said.Ware has said that when paid parking was first instituted, some city officials knew it would be inevitable that neighborhoods would be next.”It’s a natural progression,” he said.But Waggaman, who was on the council when paid parking went into effect, never considered the option and doesn’t agree it’s needed now.”It never occurred to me that you would have to go further,” she said. “This is like killing a gnat with a sledgehammer.”Former Mayor John Bennett, who voted for paid parking, said he and his colleagues were concerned about impacts paid parking would have on neighborhoods outside of the commercial core. That’s why they allowed two-hour parking with no permits, and offered HOV and car-pool parking, as well as increased bus service.

“We always made it clear that we weren’t banning the automobile, just reducing its usage,” Bennett said.The problem then was not budgetary, Bennett said. It was too many cars vying for coveted parking spaces. (See related story.)”We were accused of doing it for the money,” Bennett said. “No one ever made the suggestion that we were doing it for the money, nor did we imagine that we would extend it to make money.”Asked whether he supports expanded paid parking today, Bennett refrained from entering into the political fray.”In virtually every city in America one has to pay to park, and in one sense maybe Aspen is becoming more like the rest of America, which is sad but may be true.”Carolyn Sackariason’s e-mail address is csack@aspentimes.com.

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