AP NEWS

Council talks parking

April 11, 2019

Seasonal paid parking seems more and more to be the likely outcome of the town’s increased scrutiny of downtown stalls.

Some elected officials fully embrace the prospect. Others are warming to paid parking, or at least accepting it as the most plausible solution to Jackson’s peak-season traffic congestion and dearth of available parking.

However, while presenting their draft parking plan to the Town Council on Wednesday, consultants with Kimley-Horn said the plan offers a handful of steps that, if they get the job done, could preclude the need to install parking meters, or at least postpone the inevitable.

“If we can bring the temperature down a little bit,” said Dennis Burns, of Kimley-Horn, “that might push off the need to go to paid parking.”

The first, most effective delay tactic will be hiring a parking manager, Burns said. That person would oversee the implementation of relatively painless changes — like establishing an escalated fee structure for parking violations and converting the Home Ranch to four-hour visitor parking — meant to move employees out of prime parking spots and foster turnover.

“We always want to try to do the easier things first,” Burns said.

Mayor Pete Muldoon said he is “ready to do this now” — that is, to hire a parking manager and put that person to work. The other councilors agreed and seemed keen to jump on the consultants’ short-term suggestions. Ideally, some of the ideas would undergo test runs this summer.

The council also considered changing three-hour parking limits to two hours, making it more difficult for people to simply move their cars throughout the day.

If downtown parking spaces remain above the trigger level of 85 percent occupancy after those and other potential changes, that might signal that paid parking is in order. Muldoon has long advocated paid parking after seeing the success of Aspen’s program. Others, like Councilor Jim Stanford, have had a change of heart and agree it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“When I’m a visitor in other places [with paid parking], it’s started to dawn on me,” Stanford said. “I pull up to where I need to go, and, lo and behold, there’s a spot.”

The revenue from the fees, which the town has assumed at $1 per hour, could pay for upgrades to the downtown area and boost other transportation initiatives, like START.

Nevertheless, many business owners fear the sight of meter-lined streets will dissuade customers from shopping downtown, harming their bottom line. The consultants cited a handful of cases from across the country in which merchants, though initially opposed to paid parking, were converted “because they say their cash receipts go up,” Burns said.

Town staff and the consultants will spend the next month or so reworking the parking plan to include the council’s thoughts, and then the council will review it again. By then, an influx of tourists and their vehicles will be close at hand, so officials hope to move fast in starting at least some aspects of the plan.