Vagneur: Aspen’s parking debacle has reached its crisis threshold
We’ve hit the end of the line. Like most government bureaucratic entrenchments, the parking debacle has reached its crisis threshold. If you’re part of the Aspen city government, you must believe that cars don’t exist, except as sources of revenue for feeding the parking meters all over town. It’s become analogous to the government charging exorbitant taxes on cigarettes, ostensibly saying it will make people quit while at the same time frothing at the mouth over the additional revenue dying smokers generate. It’s kind of like that with Aspen parking — the city claims it wants to cut down on cars in town while at the same time stepping all over itself, dollar signs in its bulging eyes for the revenue.
Prior to 1995, Aspen had most of downtown on the 90-minute parking limit, no charge. There were a couple of problems with this program, or at least we thought they were big problems. The first was that Aspen was trying to cut down on PM10 particulates in the air and probably correctly assumed that if they stopped the continual driving around town of those trying to find a parking spot, it would help. Second, the city recognized that parking in the core was important to local businesses and wanted to ensure that the same cars couldn’t be parked downtown all day just by shuffling around to different 90-minute zones.
For many chagrined locals, this idea was not readily accepted, and on one prearranged day, a large number of cars circled the block containing City Hall for an hour or more, incessantly honking their horns in constant protest. It made a great spectacle, but the city turned a deaf ear.
From my vantage point, paid parking was a resounding success, at least in the beginning. Where once it was difficult to find a space, one suddenly seemed to have a choice. And I was in town most days making business calls.
It all worked as intended until the city’s eyes glazed over with dollar signs. If people were willing to pay for two hours, surely they would be willing to pay for four? Of course they would, and the two-hour limit was scrapped in favor of four. Greed always creates unintended consequences. As the city coffers swelled, many folks started parking out in the two-hour residential zones because they could no longer find a downtown parking spot.
Ever the control freaks, the city put an end to the two-hour shuffle in residential zones, and in spite of the relatively high cost of parking, it’s next to impossible to find a spot even in the two-hour zones and people are back to circling the block multiple times, looking for a cherished opening.
We’re back to square one, and the new parking genius — excuse me, czar — recognizing that about 70 percent of available parking is occupied by worker bees, is hell-bent on raising rates for the summer season. Let’s just make it tougher on people who already spend a couple of hours a day commuting, necessarily lowering their quality of life just for the privilege of working in Aspen. Like Marie Antoinette speaking “let them eat cake” about breadless peasants, Aspen is saying to its worker bees, “Too bad, folks.”
We hear voices in the night, calling for improvement in non-rubber-tired transportation, always seeming to call on the Intercept Lot as a connection point. If a car is remotely essential to your job for whatever reason, the Intercept Lot might as well be in Basalt for all the good it will do to change the situation.
If you haven’t noticed, construction workers seem to take up about half the available spaces already, preventing even people who live in town from finding convenient parking. Ski racers have a lot of gear and need personal backup, and they park near the bottom of the mountain where they can access it during the day. Not to mention numerous support workers who also need vehicles near the bottom. Think about this: The 2017 FIS World Cup Finals are coming to Aspen next winter — we’re gonna look internationally foolish if we don’t start to think about this now.
Future development on Aspen Street will permanently eliminate a ton of parking, particularly for ski racers and mountain employees, an eventuality that hasn’t been addressed, although the Gorsuch team has said they’ll provide parking for their own needs.
We can’t run more buses — it’ll create bus gridlock in town and on the highway and make living here a hellish nightmare for anyone close to the bus routes.
We need to create more and better public transportation, but we also need to create more automobile parking. If we don’t, it’ll bite us in the ass. Not to ruffle anyone’s feathers, but Vail has done a brilliant job of managing automobiles and a car-free downtown. Maybe we should take a field trip.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at email@example.com.
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