Limiting traffic with parking
September 15, 2007
In its latest editorial (“Expansion of paid parking makes Aspen more exclusive,” Sept. 12), The Aspen Times castigates the City Council for considering an increase in paid parking rates and coverage that would put the parking system in fiscal balance.
The City Council is considering but has not adopted paid parking changes that would increase rates by about 30 percent following five years with no increases and expand parking meters to over-burdened neighborhoods where single-occupancy vehicles are stored all day without charge by means of the “two-hour shuffle.”
At a time when the planet and the resort are headed toward a climate change cataclysm, the newspaper asks that we continue down the same old path: taxpayer money to reward single-occupancy auto use through “free” parking that should really be called “subsidized parking.”
There doesn’t seem to be much point to a Canary Action plan if the only actions that can be taken are convenient, painless or totally voluntary. The burden of cutting the carbon footprint should not fall solely on those willing to voluntarily ride a bus, walk or car pool. I do not think we can afford the high environmental and fiscal costs of “free” parking for people who simply want to store their vehicles near work each day.
Each year the garage and street parking system loses money. Given that most of us need to drive some of the time and even some of the time by ourselves, the real question is who should pay for the facilities (garage, meters, and enforcement) that keep us from choking on even more on traffic and pollution?
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The editorial asserts that “Aspen is expensive and exclusive enough as it is.” I agree but I don’t think subsidies for single-occupancy driving make it possible for the less affluent or middle class to live here or work here. Good zoning, affordable housing and local-serving businesses make a town inclusive. Were parking to be free tomorrow, we might pollute the planet even further but we would not affect the ability of people to live or ski here. I can’t imagine someone waking up in Des Moines and exclaiming: “Honey, let’s go to Aspen, spend $800 a day for a room, another $100 for a car and $80 for dinner because parking is FREE!”
To the extent we have a problem with exclusivity, it is the product of market forces and growth decisions, not parking behavior by single-occupancy vehicles.
The editorial says the Times has serious reservations about spending money on parking enforcement and the idea of having parking meters in front of beautiful Victorian homes.
Perhaps the Times believes in voluntary parking enforcement, sort of like voluntary construction management or voluntary secure trash containers or voluntary reductions in motorcycle noise or paying for ski lift tickets on a voluntary basis. I think that would work for 80 percent or 90 percent of our parking users just as it does for others who create impacts on the community but it would still leave an unmanageable problem and increase the carbon footprint.
As to the use of the new solar-powered parking meters in front of Victorian houses, that might well be preferred by local residents who now find their streets filled with construction vehicles, pick-up trucks and SUVs from dawn until dark and sometimes cannot park in their own neighborhoods or get out of their own driveways.
This problem is not strictly about construction vehicles. However, we have direct reports of employees whose sole job it is to move cars every two hours on behalf of their fellow workers. This happened in spite of written promises by many contractors to limit their use of the streets for parking employees.
The Times also states, “… many commuters work here so they can live downvalley.” I have supported two Entrance solutions that I think would benefit the commuter far more than free parking and two-hour car shuffles. I do not think allowing traffic levels to build beyond the current level and subsidies for single-occupancy driving are going to relieve congestion at the Entrance.
Many of these same arguments were heard more than a decade ago and have been proved wrong or irrelevant. Paid parking is the one tool that has been proven to be effective in reducing single-occupancy vehicle traffic, reducing congestion and producing cleaner air.
The Times concludes its editorial by asserting that paid parking looks like a Band-Aid that shouldn’t be applied until “we solve our housing crisis.” That argument might have more force had The Aspen Times attended the two-day housing summit last week in which this council committed to begin work on substantial additions to the affordable housing inventory and to take steps to address the growth that has generated so much of our traffic.
I agree that housing is a problem that must be addressed but I do not agree that we should continue to use tax dollars to reward single-occupancy parking in residential neighborhoods until the housing problem is resolved.