City looks at proposals to fix parking problems
Aspen’s City Council and Parking Department looked at the future of parking and transportation in town during a City Council work session Monday evening.
The conversation took place following a July retreat where the council set a goal to reduce traffic in Aspen over the next two years, City Attorney Jim True said.
Despite the fact that Aspen’s traffic has remained lighter than 1993 levels for 22 years, city Transportation Director John Krueger said, it is still a major problem in town identified by both the community and the city.
The primary change the staff recommended to the city’s current parking program is to implement a “dynamic pricing” system, which the city defined as “pricing items at a level determined by a particular customer’s perceived ability to pay.”
At Monday’s work session, city Parking Director Mitch Osur proposed two major options for dynamic pricing in Aspen’s core: either charging for parking based on the time of year or charging based on location.
The time-of-year pricing could fluctuate seasonally, Osur said, adding that “locals will understand.” The proposal includes 50 percent lower parking fees in late April, May, late October and November; status quo fees in January, February, early April, early June, September, early October and early December; and 50 percent higher fees in March, late June, July, August and late December.
For parking charges based on location, Osur suggested as an example that the four busiest blocks in town charge the most for parking.
The Parking Department said the desirable parking occupancy rate is 85 percent, where one or two spaces per block are available. The goal of demand-response pricing by season is to keep parking occupancy in town below 85 percent.
Osur also said dynamic pricing encourages longer-term parking and transportation alternatives instead of congestion and parking in the core.
When parking occupancy rates approach 90 percent, cars driving around in search of spaces are increasing vehicle congestion, the Parking Department said.
Another proposed parking change was to the Rio Grande Parking Plaza. Osur suggested that the city maintain hourly, daily and monthly parking options and fees in the garage and that the city offer free parking on Sundays and all federal holidays, with the exception of the Fourth of July.
“We do it in the core, so why wouldn’t we do it in the garage?” Osur said of the proposal, which he said came after talking with many people in town, including both residents and tourists.
Osur also suggested extending free nighttime parking in the Rio Grande garage to begin at 5 p.m. and end at 5 a.m. instead of the current 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. hours.
The goals of the changes proposed to the garage are to reduce parking occupancy and congestion in the commercial core and to encourage those who must drive to park in the garage instead of on the street.
Councilman Bert Myrin said he thinks congestion at the Castle Creek Bridge is a much bigger problem than in the downtown core.
As far as dynamic pricing, Councilman Adam Frisch said he thinks it is a no-brainer.
“While I think dynamic pricing is great, I don’t think it’s going to be end-all, be-all,” Frisch said. “But I think it’s worth trying.”
Frisch also said it’s important that the city figures out how to better utilize its current parking lots, like those at Brush Creek, the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport and Buttermilk Mountain.
Councilwoman Ann Mullins said she supports expanding transit opportunities in town, while Mayor Steve Skadron said he thinks the community has reached its tolerance for buses rumbling through town.
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