Business leaders in Steamboat Springs weigh possible changes to downtown parking
July 12, 2013
Steamboat Springs — Ask a room full of downtown merchants, Steamboat Springs City Council members and business leaders here if the city has a parking problem, and you’re likely to get a healthy mix of answers.
Some will say they’ve never had a problem finding a parking space downtown within a block or two of their destinations.
You’ve just got to know where to look.
But others will describe many fruitless and frustrating missions to find a place to squeeze in on Yampa Street or Lincoln Avenue after 4 p.m.
Some guests here also complain that parking can be a challenge.
"I think there is a parking management problem, not necessarily a parking problem," Mainstreet Steamboat Springs Manager Tracy Barnett said Friday, noting that Steamboat still has limited enforcement of parking and no meters. "You could call 10 people to ask if there’s a problem, and they’d all give you different answers. But I think it’s rare that people would just say ‘no.’"
Following a 2012 report from the Urban Land Institute that called the city’s parking system "antiquated," enough business leaders in Steamboat today think there is enough of a parking problem to explore some solutions.
The ideas so far range from a new downtown park-and-ride shuttle to the introduction of paid parking in the years ahead.
Steamboat’s continued system of free parking in the downtown corridor remains rare for mountain resort communities in Colorado.
In the past few years, cities like Aspen and Telluride have taken the leap, and many have found bus ridership soar in response.
Murmurs of paid parking here started more than a decade ago and never have gained any solid traction, Barnett said, but recent improvements to the economy along with the prospect of traffic increasing downtown has driven some business leaders here to start talking more seriously about pushing to change the city’s parking-management system.
A brainstorming session at the Chief Theater on Tuesday revealed that many merchants think parking that is taken by employees who work downtown continues to create a significant problem that first was discovered in a parking study done more than a decade ago.
They also are split on the prospect of paid parking in the future.
Barnett said the most likely result of the meetings in the short term would be an educational campaign for downtown businesses to have their employees continue to park away from the front doors of businesses.
She said many businesses already have resolved the problem, but reports still are surfacing about employees taking prime spaces.
Another possible solution being explored is a shuttle that could take employees from a satellite parking lot such as the Stock Bridge Transit Center directly to the downtown area.
The city’s free bus system already allows daytime employees to do that, but Barnett said a more frequent shuttle could entice more employees to utilize a park-and-ride system and use it at night, when safety becomes a concern for people walking to lots across the river at Howelsen Hill.
"The issue is we don’t have a place for the employees to park that is convenient," Barnett said.
While employees parking downtown is the more immediate concern, murmurs of paid parking are growing louder than they have in past years.
Tuesday’s parking discussion kicked off with talk about the prospect of Steamboat’s first parking meters.
Barnett shared a letter from a downtown businessman who was advocating for paid parking.
But some in the room immediately had concerns.
Longtime Steamboat resident Bill Root said the system would hurt the city’s friendly image and do more harm than good.
Barnett and other business leaders in the room said it must remain an option.
"Paid parking has been on the table a bunch, and there is more and more appetite for it today than there was years ago," she said.
Previous talks about paid parking here stalled after some merchants came out strongly against the idea, saying it would drive people away from their storefronts.
Planning Director Tyler Gibbs said technological advancements to parking meters, such as the ability to pay with debit cards and options that allow people to add more time from their smartphones, could make them more acceptable in Steamboat.
Still, there would be hurdles to overcome with the system including funding for it and the extra enforcement that would be needed.
And what about a new parking structure?
Early estimates of parking spaces in such a facility costing tens of thousands of dollars each to build has kept the idea on the back burner.
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To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com