Council plugs expansion of paid parking |

Council plugs expansion of paid parking

Janet Urquhart
Aspen plans to expand paid parking beyond the downtown core, shaded in yellow, to the blocks shaded in blue. (Courtesy City of Aspen)

The size of Aspen’s paid parking zone will more than double by the summer under a plan the City Council endorsed Tuesday.Metered parking, where motorists pay by the hour, will expand from the downtown core by roughly three blocks in every direction – into areas where motorists can currently park for free for up to two hours and where commuters park and then shuffle their cars all day to avoid a ticket, and paying to park.Beyond the expanded paid parking zone, however, the two-hour residential free zone will continue. Initially, the council had considered prohibiting parking in those areas to anyone without a permit, in essence eliminating free parking on public streets virtually anywhere within walking distance of downtown Aspen.Councilman Jack Johnson favored eliminating the two-hour zone altogether, though city staffers pulled back on the proposal, reasoning it would hurt West Main Street businesses that would have no free parking for customers.”I think we’re just going to push the problem three blocks out,” Johnson said, predicting the vehicle shuffling will continue, though workers will have to walk farther to move their cars every two hours.Council members Torre and Rachel Richards both opposed the expansion of paid parking. Torre said he’d like to seek better alternatives to reduce congestion – the goal of expanded paid parking – but admitted, “I don’t have the answers.”

Richards panned the plan without improved bus service to offer motorists an alternative to driving into town.”All people are seeing is kind of the punitive nature of this,” she said.The proposal calls for a $1-per-hour fee to park from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the extended zone, or $5 for an all-day pass. The $5 pass is an available option now, but 500 to 700 vehicles daily are being moved around instead, according to Tim Ware, head of the city’s parking department.Anyone with a residential, guest, lodging or carpool pass, or those who drive hybrids or already buy $5 day passes won’t be affected, he said.”Really the only effect is on everybody who’s moving their cars every two hours to beat the system,” Ware said.A few local residents, including some who already pay to park, nonetheless spoke out against the plan. Aspen attorney and resident Gideon Kaufman predicted the move will limit the flexibility of locals to go about their day and hurt Aspen’s small-town feel.

“Is it really going to solve the problem? I don’t think so,” said local window washer Dan Kitchen, echoing Johnson’s concerns. The extended paid parking will simply hurt the working man, Kitchen said.Local resident David Guthrie offered a different take.”I don’t really care what we do, as long as we do something,” he said. “Too many people drive – all of us drive too much.”Paid parking, hugely controversial when it was first instituted in the core 11 years ago, has helped the city hold traffic volumes to 1993 levels, noted Chris Bendon, the city’s head planner. Few communities can claim zero traffic growth, he said.”I see this as a logical evolution, not another revolution,” Bendon said. “I see free parking as an infrastructure that facilitates people driving their cars.””I think we need to take the next step,” Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss agreed.

Mayor Helen Klanderud, though not overly enthusiastic about the plan, said the city needs to do something.”I’m troubled. I feel we’re really dragging our feet,” she said. “I don’t know if this is the right decision or not. I’m willing to try this experiment.”Council members agreed the new meters won’t go into effect until a planned Main Street bus lane is in place, for the start of the summer season.The cost of 75 meters, for about 1,500 additional parking spaces, plus new signs, will cost an estimated $750,000.The startup costs could be recovered within three years through the additional fee revenue, Ware estimated. If the city decides to scrap the expanded paid parking, it could probably sell the meters for half their purchase price, he said.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is