No easy answers for Vail parking
October 19, 2016
By the numbers
22: Summer days the Lionshead parking structure filled in 2015
58: Summer days that structure filled in 2016.
20: Summer days of frontage road parking in 2009.
22: Summer days of frontage road parking in 2016.
Source: Town of Vail
VAIL — Vail Public Works director Greg Hall knows what people want when they look for parking: close-in, free and always available. Vail has never had that.
Parking has been a problem in Vail nearly since the time the resort opened in December of 1962. It took the fledgling resort and town another 14 years to start charging for parking.
Rates for this winter are unchanged from last season: the first two hours are free, with charges of $15 for two to three hours, $20 for three to four hours and $25 for four to 12 hours.
The town has never charged for summer parking — something that’s unlikely to change, despite a hard summer in the Lionshead parking structure. That structure filled 58 times throughout the summer, nearly triple the number of days the structure filled in the summer of 2015.
A 2012 town parking survey showed a need for another 400 public spaces.
Much of that structure traffic was due to big construction projects at a new condominium project, The Lion and at Vail Valley Medical Center. As the summer parking pattern developed, town officials started hearing complaints from Lionshead business owners that their customers couldn’t park.
More efforts to manage
A summer Vail Town Council meeting resulted in more efforts to get construction crews to carpool or van-pool to work. The town also adjusted the wording on its variable message signs away from “Lot full” messages.
There was also renewed talk about “managing” — charging for — summer parking in the town’s structures.
There’s lot of resistance to that idea.
“I don’t believe the business community wants managed summer parking,” Mayor Dave Chapin said. But, he added, town officials and the business community need to talk about the problem.
Chapin said the lots of hotels that charge for parking are largely empty in the summer, with guests choosing instead to park in the town’s structures.
The Lion will be largely finished this winter, but the medical center’s renovation will be an even bigger project in 2018.
But don’t expect charges for summer parking by then, either.
“You don’t just say, ‘We’re going to charge for parking’ and that’s it,” Chapin said. “It’s a big expenditure for the town.”
Still, it’s important for the town to control its overflow parking, especially on its frontage roads. The town and the Colorado Department of Transportation are parties to a complex agreement governing parking along the frontage roads.
No easy answers
The state agency manages the town’s frontage roads as part of its responsibility for Interstate 70. A parking area across the street from Safeway in West Vail is open for parking almost all the time. But the south frontage roads are restricted to 30 days per year of overflow parking.
The town now splits those days evenly between the summer and winter seasons. The contractual limits have been exceeded — so far without penalty — in three of the past four seasons since the winter of 2014 — 2015. Summer overflow days have exceeded winter overflow days the past two years.
There aren’t any easy answers for the problem.
A 2012 town parking survey showed a need for another 400 public spaces. And there are some spaces either being built or proposed by private developers. The Lion will have more than 50 parking spaces available to the public. A proposal for a Marriott Residence Inn at the old Roost Lodge site in West Vail includes 360 below-ground parking spaces — more than the town requires for the combination of hotel rooms and apartments.
But building parking is expensive. Even the frontage road work near Safeway and the Middle Creek apartments on the north side of I-70 added up to more than $20,000 per space.
There’s some money available from Vail Resorts — which has pledged $4.3 million to help town parking projects — but the town and resort company haven’t talked about specific uses for that funding.
The town once had a parking task force made up of residents, business representatives and town officials. That task force was disbanded in about 2010.
Council member Greg Moffet suggested reviving that group.
“It seems to me we got better solutions because there was community input,” Moffet said.
That idea will come up for discussion at the council’s Nov. 1 meeting.
Council member Kim Langmaid agreed that reviving the task force is important. But she said, future parking discussions need to incorporate budding technologies and trends, such as self-driving cars and better transit.
“I’m not really a big fan of building parking structures that will become dinosaurs in the future,” Langmaid said.