Aspen ready to limit free parking |

Aspen ready to limit free parking

ASPEN ” Monday will be the public’s last chance to speak up on a proposal aimed at eliminating free parking in residential areas outside the downtown core.

The Aspen City Council is expected to pass a new ordinance that would put a two-hour limit on free parking in neighborhoods. The law would take effect in February, after the holiday season and the Winter X Games.

City transportation officials also propose buying a license plate recognition (LPR) system that uses an optical scanner. The system will enable parking officers to better enforce the proposed two-hour free rule, by which drivers would be forbidden from parking in the same residential zone for more than 120 minutes in a 24-hour period. The rule would apply to all residential areas for three blocks off the commercial core. Those who feel they must drive and park all day would be able to buy a day pass.

Also being proposed are 15 parking meters in residential areas that would allow motorists to purchase a day pass, which costs $7 in neighborhoods.

Parking officers have collected data on vehicles parked within a four-block radius of the commercial core to determine the number of cars using residential parking, how many of them are permitted and how many drivers simply are moving their cars to avoid the two-hour limit. More than 50 percent of the vehicles in two-hour residential zones ” between 300 and 600 cars a day” are being moved whenever they are chalked, according to parking officials.

A typical LPR system can input hundreds of vehicles per hour through an optical scanner mounted on a vehicle or a handheld device. Each time the unit reads a license plate, it is matched with a database of parked vehicles for the day and alerts the parking officer to a match if the vehicle is in violation of the two-hour limit.

The LPR system also eliminates tire chalking and the ability of the vehicle’s owner to spin their wheels or rub the chalk off their tires. An LPR system for Aspen is expected to cost $98,000.

New signs will cost $10,000, and 15 new pay-and-display stations to serve as day-pass dispensers in the residential zones will be $250,000. Those costs will be offset by an estimated $260,000 in additional revenue annually, parking officials said.

During the spring of 2006, the City Council discussed eliminating two-hour free parking in residential neighborhoods and requiring motorists to pay between $1 and $5 per day. Because of concerns about how that would affect transit services, the proposal was shot down in a 3-2 vote.

Then, the City Council last fall was poised to vote on installing 70 to 75 new pay stations in neighborhoods, forcing people to pay to park in roughly 1,500 spaces that currently are free. But elected leaders wanted to consider other alternatives before making such an unpopular political move.

The latest ordinance would affect three blocks in every direction extending from the downtown core, as well as the blocks off Durant Avenue along the base of Aspen Mountain.

Motorists displaying carpool, residential, lodge guest or valid permits, such as those for disabled drivers and hybrid vehicles, would be exempt from the two-hour limitation.

The law would go into effect Feb. 2, which would give officials time to see how gas prices, the economy, free bus service between Aspen and Snowmass, the new bus lanes at the entrance to town and other factors affect the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s ability to accommodate increased ridership demand.

If it’s determined that RFTA can’t handle more ridership, parking changes to residential areas could be postponed, officials said.

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