Our View: Here we go again with parking
January 26, 2014
When we heard the news this week that the city of Steamboat Springs is investigating paid parking in downtown, we couldn't help but think, "Here we go again."
We aren't rejecting paid parking as one way to achieve what should be the shared goal of turning over parking spaces in our historic downtown parking district. We've seen that it has been successful in busier mountain towns from Santa Fe to Telluride and Jackson, Wyo. The businesses there are not suffering; they are thriving.
There always will be people who dislike paying for parking. But it could prove to be a more palatable way than ticketing to prevent people from abusing free parking.
The thing is, we aren't convinced that the downtown parking situation here is unmanageable.
In August 1999, a study commissioned by the city concluded that at least 75 percent of available spaces in the downtown core were being occupied on a daily basis by residents and commuters rather than tourists.
Another way to turn over parking spaces is to use parking tickets to train motorists to move on when their time is up. That same study reported that locals were receiving more parking tickets than visitors. That was due in large part to the fact that first-time violators (read vacationers) were being issued warnings, not tickets. But by 2000, then-police captain Rick Crotz said progress was being made, and the number of violations issued had dropped from 571 in 1999 to 462 for the same period in 2000. The cumulative amount of the fines collected also had dropped steeply to just $1,670.
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Also in 2000, the Downtown Business Association was pressing the city to build a multi-level parking structure. Paul Hughes, the city manager at the time, was optimistic that with the paving of the parking lot at the Howelsen Hill ice skating rink, 90 new, close-in parking spots would open up, creating new possibilities for downtown workers to park away from the limited parking on Oak and Yampa streets and the side streets connecting them to Lincoln Avenue. Hughes even dangled the possibility of a shuttle from the ice rink into downtown.
Hughes also found a low-cost way to add to downtown parking inventory when he urged that parking on certain sections of downtown side streets be striped for diagonal parking. It worked on Fourth, Seventh and 11th streets.
We agree with remarks by Steamboat Springs City Council member Walter Magill this month that downtown is changing and goals for its revitalization warrant a fresh look at parking. It's plain to all of us that parking shortages are more acute in the evening on Yampa Street and the side streets than on Lincoln Avenue itself.
But we feel strongly that any plan to establish paid parking downtown (likely in the form of kiosks that accept debit cards rather than old-fashioned parking meters) be matched with a serious effort by downtown businesses, including offices and government buildings. We suggest they actively incentivize their employees to park several blocks away from the commercial district. We also think it is important that downtown stakeholders take part and get behind any parking improvement plans initiated by the city.
Finally, should the city undertake a program to implement paid parking, we hope they will consider testing the concept at the existing Eighth Street and/or 10th Street parking lots, but only in the busy summer and winter seasons. We could learn much from how paid parking is received in those two strategically situated lots.
It will be interesting to see if motorists avoid them or embrace them.