Over the holidays, every parking space in downtown Aspen filled. The busy time brought record numbers of visitors and headaches for drivers. The complaints prompted a conversation at City Hall about how to fix parking problems. Aspen Public Radio's Elise Thatcher reports.
I’m standing outside retailer Dolce and Gabbana, eyeing an SUV with a parking ticket tucked under a windshield wiper. While I wait, Milwaukee Wisconsin residents Sharon Madnek and Andy Pokrass stop to chat. They’re in Aspen for six days, staying at the Shadow Mountain lodge. They have a rental car.
"It’s a little confusing to know that we have to know [how to] get Aspen’s parking passes for the day," says Sharon Madnek, referring to the residential zone where to where they're staying.
Madnek and Pokrass tackled the task their first day, schlepping around town to get said passes. They stumbled onto the Parking Department’s office, and signed up for some that were mercifully eight dollars a day.
"But the point I think is that the parking is not readily available... Yes, you've got pay here stations to stop at," says Andy Pokrass. "I don’t know how to do it. There are signs that say no parking, or two hour parking in the Zone B, C, D, but you go to that office to get the parking and it’s you can park in B, C, D, but you can’t park in the orange zone. We’re out of town, so we’re on our own.”
If spaces are plentiful while this couple is in town, arriving during one of the busiest holidays would have been a different story. In the month since the winter’s most frenzied holiday time… when record numbers of visitors were here, there’s been a growing discussion about whether there’s enough parking. At a City Council meeting in mid January, Mayor Steve Skadron called on Council and other local officials to tackle the issue.
“It’s time for us to start changing the model," asserts Skadron, "parking is a problem here. And what we need to do is address ways to keep cars out of the core.”
Skadron said he didn’t know the exact answer. But, "...maybe we could do something with the airport, and there’s a way to make this happen. What I do know, is that the traditional discussion we have about parking doesn’t work. And we have to something to move the discussion forward.”
Aspen’s new airport director, John Kinney, says it’s possible some kind of transit center, holding more parking, could be a part of the airport expansion in coming years.
Council member Dwayne Romero echoed the Mayor on the parking problem at another meeting in January.
“I’ve had more commentary by the public, in the last thirty days or so around the concept of parking," describes Romero. "More so than any height variances, more so than any floor variances, affordable housings, it is the parking, and I think just the complete, we are up to our gills fed up."
Romero also brought up the idea of finding ways to get people out of their cars before they arrive in Aspen—maybe making the intercept lot the new entrance to town.
But when it comes to the numbers, major holidays are the only time cars in Aspen exceed the number of spaces. Blake Fitch is Interim Director of Aspen Parking, and tallies up the stats. "In the downtown core there’s 700 spaces. In the residential, outlying residential areas there’s 2350, and then the Rio Grande Parking Garage there’s 330."
That’s a total of 3380. Fitch explains the demand this way: “We do a count four times a year on the core, just to see what the average occupancy levels are there. And for 2014’s counts, the highest occupancy that we recorded during those times was eighty two percent.”
It’s the Christmas through New Year’s stretch, July 4th, and other major holidays that max out options, and bring an avalanche of complaints. Normally, Fitch says, it’s possible to simply park further out in a residential zone… and walk into downtown.
Which is what Milwaukee visitors Andy Pokrass and Sharon Madnek end up doing today… even though parking is plentiful in Aspen’s core. They don’t want to shell out for a separate pass to park their rental car downtown.
“On top of the eight dollars, then you have to pay extra. Which isn’t obvious," says
Madnek, a little annoyed. Pokrass chimes in: “But we wouldn’t have to pay if we were in B, C, D…” but Madnek quickly points out they're not technically in those zones. They both say say no one told them about the more affordable Rio Grande Parking Garage a few blocks away.
All of these-- and other-- parking issues will soon be tackled by a new parking director. The City of Aspen is taking applications through Friday, February 6th.