Marolt: Parking in Aspen is not for the insane |

Marolt: Parking in Aspen is not for the insane


The idea of building a parking garage under Wagner Park is to Aspen what Einstein’s theory of relativity is to physics: interesting. But, since we can neither travel at the speed of light nor have a parking problem in Aspen, both theoretical solutions lend themselves better to decades of heated coffee-and-doughnut debate than practical application.

Loyal readers know I am not an expert at much, but parking in Aspen is one thing I at least have lots of familiarity with. Since the day 35 years agoI got my learner’s permit, I have parked in town just about every day. I’ve played all the games — double park, triple park, park with the engine idling and the hazards blinking, pushed the corners, timed the ticket-writers’ routes, worn out shoes doing the two-hour shuffle, wiped chalk marks off dirty tires with bare hands, fudged dates on day passes, played the odds — you name it.

My experience is that parking in downtown Aspen actually is so easy that I think it weirdly leads us to think it’s hard. Way more times than not, I can find a parking spot very close to where I need to be. Because of this, I always drive right to the place I am going and don’t start looking for a parking spot until I can see the front door. Occasionally there is nothing available, and I drive around the block. If I still don’t find anything, I end up driving around the same block again, thinking that I must have missed seeing an open slot between Range Rovers.

Didn’t Einstein say something about doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results and going nuts? If he didn’t, he should have, because that is precisely what drives us crazy about parking in Aspen. Circling busy downtown blocks frays nerves. Parking downtown isn’t difficult; it’s just that we are insane.

Circling busy downtown blocks frays nerves. Parking downtown isn’t difficult; it’s just that we are insane

People who head directly to the uncrowded residential sections two blocks from downtown immediately find a parking place and then walk five minutes to a restaurant are the types of people who don’t stress out over being late to yoga. Come to think of it, they don’t even need yoga!

It behooves us to remember that parking also is a relative matter. Usually, parking is easy in places you don’t want to be or shouldn’t be. It is always challenging at places that are fun and exciting. So, in judging the relative difficulty of parking in Aspen, we have to compare it to other fun and exciting places — not Cleveland.

My theory is that parking underneath Wagner Park is better only than no parking at all. Clearly, it is not better than parking right in front of the restaurant or shop you want to go to. Parking underneath Wagner Park becomes a spectacular idea if you happen to be going to the Ruggerfest championship game. Other than that, it would be a compromise.

Don’t forget that Wagner Park is five blocks from the post office, four from Clark’s Market, three blocks from City Market, two from Carl’s and less than a block from McDonald’s. So, on average, you could say it’s about 2 1/2 blocks from where you want to go in Aspen or, in other words, about the same distance from those same places as the existing underused underground four-story public parking garage by the courthouse.

The worst-case scenario for parking in Aspen is Fourth of July. Then if you are not in town before the Smuggler sunrise dynamite festival, you might find yourself walking six or seven blocks toting two lawn chairs and a loaded cooler while pushing a baby stroller and holding up an umbrella. But that’s one day a year, and you would still have to get all the crap out of the car and up the elevator even if you could park underneath Wagner Park — assuming you could even get there with all the street closures.

The biggest complaint I hear about parking in Aspen is paying for it. It seems expensive, and that’s because there doesn’t appear to be a limited supply of it. A new parking garage would only drive the cost higher. If you build an expensive underground garage, you have to pay for it either through hourly rates or government subsidy. This gives the government incentive to disincentives parking anywhere else except in its own expensive structure. So we end up with more empty parking at higher prices everywhere in town. If you think about it this way, though, it makes so little sense that it might actually be worth a try.

Roger Marolt believes that parking in Aspen is the worst, except for everywhere else. Contact him at