Aspen takes up parking policies, again |

Aspen takes up parking policies, again

Carolyn Sackariason
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” A combination of parking meters in residential areas, scanning license plates to track drivers and putting a two-hour limit on free parking in neighborhoods is what transportation officials say will effectively reduce traffic levels in downtown Aspen.

Officials also want to try instituting what’s known as “congestion pricing” in the downtown core, which means motorists pay directly for driving on a particular road or in a particular area, at a particular time of day.

That’s what is being recommended to the City Council for its consideration Monday, according to a memo drafted by Colin Laird, director of Healthy Mountain Communities and Tim Ware, the city’s director of parking.

Several parking policy options will be presented to address the goals of reducing traffic levels, improving pedestrian friendliness and doing away with the “two-hour shuffle,” in which motorists move their cars every 120 minutes to avoid getting a ticket in residential zones.

Staff recommends the city buy a License Plate Recognition (LPR) system that uses an optical scanner. That system will enable parking officers to better enforce a 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 can buy a day pass.

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

The congestion pricing in downtown Aspen would be a pilot program and is estimated to cost $20,000. It would test wireless technologies and facilitate further research into a possible permanent program. Staff is particularly interested in exploring the adaptability of the paid parking meters to work with wireless monitors in vehicles. The system could be set up similarly to how a toll road works.

How to best use an LPR system, which is a critical component in congestion pricing programs used in both London and Stockholm, also could be tested in a pilot program, according to Laird and Ware.

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, or whatever policy is in place.

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. A LPR system for Aspen is expected to cost $70,000 initially and $15,000 a year for maintenance and support, according to Laird and Ware.

In total, staff’s recommendations are estimated to cost between $350,000 to $380,000. Changing the parking signs in residential zones would cost between $50,000 and $80,000; day pass meters would cost $200,000, and signs for those meters would be $10,000. That’s in addition to the LPR system at $70,000 and the congestion pricing pilot program at $20,000.

Potential revenues are estimated at more than $550,000 annually, based on a conservative prediction that day pass sales would increase 25 percent during peak seasons and more parking tickets would be issued.

The policy changes are recommended to happen after the new bus lanes from Buttermilk to the roundabout are complete, which should be this November. But in the meantime, staff would like to begin using the LPR system to better monitor and understand current parking patterns.

Parking officers already 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. Over 50 percent of the vehicles in two-hour residential zones ” between 300 and 600 cars ” are moving their cars whenever they are chalked, according to parking officials.

“… The two-hour shuffle is an indication that current policies are not adequately managing street parking and is resulting in unnecessary traffic in search of a parking space,” the memo reads.

Other options that staff isn’t recommending that are up for the council’s consideration include the status quo, which involves no change to the parking policies, as well as establishing permit-only zones around the commercial core so only residents who live in those areas can park there.

The other alternative is to expand paid parking into residential areas, which was recommended late last year but now has been taken off the table.

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.

An ordinance to expand paid parking three blocks in every direction off the downtown core, as well as the blocks off of Durant Avenue along the base of Aspen Mountain, was expected to be voted on by the City Council last October. But elected leaders wanted to consider other alternatives before making such an unpopular political move.


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