Our View: Keeping spots open is crucial | SteamboatToday.com

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Our View: Keeping spots open is crucial

— It will take more than expanded parking hours and increased fines for the city of Steamboat Springs and downtown merchants to free up Lincoln Avenue and side-street parking for shoppers and diners.

Real change will come only when there's a total commitment on the part of all downtown businesses to keep their employees from parking in prime storefront spaces, and when the city commits itself to consistent and strict enforcement of parking regulations.

The city's latest discussion about downtown parking issues and potential solutions gathered momentum last week, when a city parking and transit committee presented recommended changes to the City Council. Those changes include expanding Lincoln Avenue and side-street parking from two-hour zones to three-hour zones, and allowing all-day parking in downtown Steamboat's few public parking lots.

The recommendations also include increased fines for parking violations. Currently, vehicles parked in a spot longer than allowed receive a warning on first offense, $10 on second offense, $20 on third, $40 on fourth and a maximum fine of $80 on the fifth and additional offenses.

The new proposal would allow for a warning on first offense and a $40 fine on all ensuing offenses. Fines for parking in "no parking" and "loading zone" areas would double from $25 to $50, and the fine for parking illegally in a handicap space would jump to $100 for every offense.

We're OK with the increased fines, which city officials hope will encourage motorists to be more aware of the time restrictions and move their vehicles accordingly. We're also supportive of expanding most downtown parking from two-hour to three-hour zones, which business owners think will give shoppers enough time to enjoy a meal and shop at Lincoln Avenue stores without having to move their cars or risk getting a ticket. Indeed, visitor surveys are reported to reveal concerns among shoppers that they don't have enough time to leave their vehicles and fully enjoy the downtown experience.

We're not convinced, however, that allowing all-day parking in downtown's precious few lots is a smart move. The intent behind that aspect of the proposal is to free up a bank of parking spaces for downtown employees, many of whom currently occupy the more valuable spaces along Lincoln Avenue and its side streets.

Time has proven that off-site parking at Howelsen Hill and the Stock Bridge Transit Center, for example, aren't attractive to downtown employees, particularly when they can shuffle their vehicles through Lincoln Avenue spaces during the course of the day and avoid any citations. And we're not sure three-hour and eight-hour zones will change that behavior.

What might change that behavior is a universal commitment among downtown business owners to get their employees to understand why parking away from Lincoln Avenue and its immediate side streets is good for business and, as a direct result, the employees themselves. We know many business owners have taken these steps with their workers, but we also know there remain some who don't seem to mind if their employees — or worse, even themselves — occupy valuable storefront parking spaces for the bulk of the business day. It's hard to throw a lot of support behind proposed solutions to perceived parking problems when the folks who stand to gain the most from available on-street parking don't care enough to leave those spaces for their potential customers.

After hearing the recommendations Tuesday, the City Council provided some feedback to the parking and transit committee and urged it to come back with additional local input before the consideration of a new ordinance April 6. Whatever the outcome, we're pessimistic about dramatic improvement in the availability of downtown parking until there's real buy-in from everyone with a vested interest in the success of Lincoln Avenue business — and that should be all of us.