Summer parking will stay free — for now | VailDaily.com

Summer parking will stay free — for now

VAIL — Yes, it's harder to park at the Lionshead parking structure this summer. No, it won't lead to paid summer parking — at least not yet.

The Vail Town Council on Tuesday learned about this summer's parking crunch in Lionshead Village. That structure usually fills on weekdays — the Vail Village structure has been filling frequently on weekends. In fact, Lionshead usually fills between 9 and 11 a.m.

Those spaces are usually taken by people working on construction projects at Vail Valley Medical Center and The Lion condominium project. Representatives of those projects have already been asked to encourage workers to carpool and use shuttles — the medical center already has a fleet of shuttles and remote parking for employees there.

In 2008, when there were 2,800 construction workers in Vail on weekdays, town officials put a cap on morning entry into the structures. But those limits were imposed when there were 75 spaces at the site now occupied by the West Vail Fire station. Vail Resorts provided 150 spots near Golden Peak.

But limiting morning access to Lionshead might just push vehicles to the Vail Village structure.

NO LONG-TERM PARKING

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Besides the daily traffic, town parking and transit manager Mike Rose said summer often brings a number of vehicles that are essentially stored in the structures. Police will ticket vehicles that have been parked two weeks or more.

Even with a ticket for roughly $40 for those long-term parkers, Rose noted "that's still cheap parking."

Council member Jenn Bruno is a co-owner of clothing shops in Vail Village and is often parked in the structures.

"I feel like we have squatters," in the summer, she said.

Vail Public Works Department Director Greg Hall added that many visitors park for several days in the structure as an alternative to paying for parking at the hotels where they're staying.

HOW TO FREE UP SPACE?

The question facing town officials now is how to free up parking for visitors — without taking the step of charging for parking during the warm-weather months.

Mayor Dave Chapin asked if there's a way to limit cars to a 24-hour stay in the structures. Rose said that's difficult without opening up the payment system.

Chapin also suggested that the town might provide vouchers for hotel guests to cover the costs of parking at those lodges.

IS MORE PARKING NEEDED?

Ultimately, though, the question comes down to whether or not there's enough structured parking in town.

In council member Dick Cleveland's mind, it's time to build more places to put cars.

"It's like housing — (demand) goes up and it goes down… But it's time to build more parking, and we need to get Vail Resorts to participate," he said. "We can't just keep having these discussions year after year."

Council member Jen Mason agreed with the need for more spaces, adding that perhaps the Lionshead structure could take another level.

REASONS NOT TO EXPAND VAIL'S PARKING GARAGES

On the other hand, structured parking is expensive, especially if excavation is involved. And new parking could conceivably take precious land away from another top priority, housing.

Council member Greg Moffet asked if Vail could see fewer cars through steps such as increased carpooling or use of shuttle buses.

Then there's the idea of Vail trying to be more environmentally sensitive. Opening the town to more vehicles doesn't fit with that goal, Moffet said.

'A BOLD DECISION'

For now, the current system will remain in place, with town officials keeping open the option of limiting access in the mornings.

For the longer term, though, Cleveland remained adamant.

"We need to acknowledge that there are needs," Cleveland said. "People aren't going to stop coming. At some point we're going to have to make a bold decision. … We may just have to do what's right."

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com and @scottnmiller.

By the numbers

700: Construction workers in Vail this summer.

2,800: Construction workers in Vail in 2008.

130: Parking spaces lost this summer to Vail Valley Medical Center construction.

9: Days of summer parking on Vail’s South Frontage Road.