Mayor: Proposed expansion of paid parking not a ‘revenue grab’
If the city of Aspen decides to spend three-quarters of a million dollars to expand its paid parking program into residential neighborhoods, it will not be a “revenue grab,” Mayor Helen Klanderud pledged.Instead, it will be to strike a blow to traffic congestion around town and to the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.The city’s transportation department recently proposed a number of changes to its transportation management programs, including the expansion of paid parking to a three-block radius surrounding the commercial core.The idea, according to transportation officials, is to eliminate the “two-hour shuffle,” a daily dance of employees who park their cars in the residential zones next to the commercial core. In these zones, residents hold special permits to park; others must move their cars every two hours to avoid a ticket.According to a survey by the city’s parking enforcement officers, nearly half of the cars parked in neighborhoods immediately adjacent the business district belong to commuting employees.If adopted, the new parking regulations would end free parking in the affected areas. Residents, hybrid cars and cars with HOV-carpooling permits could still park for free; $5-per-day parking permits also would be available.The City Council has taken its first look at the proposed changes and has unanimously endorsed the idea, Klanderud said. The council views the change as a way to reduce congestion, while stepping up the incentive for commuters to ride Roaring Fork Transit Authority buses, she said. Council members will take another look at the proposal during a Feb. 28 work session.The paid parking expansion would cost the city approximately $750,000, to buy 75 new meters, create new parking restriction signs and advertise the changes. The estimated revenue increase would be about $260,000 per year, according to city staffers.In 1995 the city placed pay-and-display parking meters around the commercial core, in part to discourage employees from driving to town and parking near their workplaces all day long. Commuters parking in the downtown core were seen as both unnecessarily adding to traffic congestion and denying parking spaces to paying customers of downtown businesses. To keep those workers from simply parking in nearby residential neighborhoods for the day, the city instituted the zoned residential parking permits and the two-hour parking limit for nonresidents.Klanderud said revisions to the parking program, specifically those aimed at cutting down on employee parking scams, have been under discussion for nearly two years.Asked whether the changes are just another way for the city to bring in additional income, Klanderud said, “Absolutely not. I don’t believe it is a revenue grab.”Conceding that, if approved, the changes might boost city revenues, she said, “That’s not my primary reason [for supporting the concept]. My primary reason would be to try to reduce the number of vehicles in town.”She continued that fewer cars would not only ease congestion on the streets of Aspen, but also would reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emission levels, which a recent report showed to be twice the national per-capita average.Asked about RFTA’s ability to absorb additional riders, given complaints that buses already are at capacity or overcrowded during rush hours, Klanderud said she did not think it would be a problem.But, she added, “Certainly we’ll rise to meet that challenge, if that turns out to be the case.”Former Aspen Mayor John Bennett, who spent considerable time and effort in the 1990s seeking solutions to Aspen’s intractable transportation problems, was in office when paid parking began. He said this week that even back then, “We did from time to time talk about expanding it. We just never did it.”Although Bennett has not studied the current proposed changes to the paid parking program, he said “it seems like it might be a logical expansion,” given the increase in congestion that has occurred in recent years.Regarding the money grab idea, Bennett remarked, “I’m not buying that.”He said that, during his tenure, “I cannot remember any discussion, not once, of [paid parking representing] revenue to the city. It just never came up.”John Colson’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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