Untangling the parking snarl
Whether they love or hate Vail’s new parking plan this ski season, many merchants and town officials agree it’s only a short-term Band-aid for what truly ails Vail’s long-term parking prognosis: and that’s a critical lack of spaces.Under direction from the town council, the Parking Task Force, comprised of representatives from the town, Vail Resorts, and the business community, was charged with the task of reducing the number of structure overflow days onto the Frontage Road this winter. To that end, the 12-person board scripted a revised parking plan for the 2002-03 ski season.New elements include the abolition of the “Free After 3 (p.m.)” stipulation in favor of “Arrive After 5 (p.m.),” a new “green” parking pass and a rate hike on the old “blue” and “gold” passes, the addition of metered spots on the top level of the structure specifically dedicated to shoppers, and the elimination of free parking at Ford Park and the Soccer Field in favor of free parking at nine different outlying locations.One month into the changes, the reaction from the merchant community is varied. Some absolutely hate the changes, while some believe they are an improvement over last year.”It’s better than no plan at all,” says Daily Grind coffee shop owner and Vail Chamber and Business Association President Kaye Ferry, “but that’s the best statement I can make.”Karats jewelry store owner Dan Telleen is more positive: “I think it’s pretty good. Every year we try and tweak it, fine tune it.”The crux of the problem is correctly managing two groups of vehicles guests’ and employees’ in a town where everyone agrees there is a shortage of spaces.Based on research conducted by the town, approximately 600 spaces in the Vail parking structures are being occupied by employees on overflow days. According to Vail Chief Operating Officer Bill Jensen, that’s too many.”I come from the premise that our guest deserves the first right to parking spaces,” Jensen says.Telleen agrees, and points to shopping malls as an example of how to dictate employee parking.”We need to insist, like malls in Denver do, that employees park in the farthest locations from the mountain,” he says. “The shortest distances should be reserved for the guests.”But merchants like Gigi Hoffman, owner of the Laughing Monkey, believe that Vail’s employees have been slighted by the new plan. She believes the blue pass is out of reach financially for most employees and the green pass is too restrictive. Pointing to Beaver Creek as a model, she wishes there was a better system for busing employees into town.”Customer service is one of main focuses,” she says, noting that 5060 percent of town revenue comes from sales tax. “If we don’t respect and care for our employees, then they won’t respect and care for our customers.”Ferry says she bought a green pass, but on more than one occasion claims she couldn’t find a place to park on her way to work. One time, she says, she drove back home and walked into town. Another time she paid the full daily price, $13, to park in the structure.The real problem, she says, echoing the concerns of both sides, is the shortage of spaces, and she places the blame squarely on the shoulders of Vail Resorts. She says they did a great thing years ago by donating the land the current structures are built on, but she says times have changed and a new effort needs to be coordinated.”Vail Resorts has the resources and the land, but until the community says ‘no more,’ every year we’ll be trying to solve a problem that can’t be solved,” says Ferry.Jensen agrees that Vail Resorts, as the generator of the extra vehicles, needs to find a solution to the parking shortage, and he believes the company is taking measure to that end.”We’re working on the Lionshead site and figuring out what we can build,” he says, adding that the solution will most likely be a combination of spots designated for guests and spots designated for employees.For now, he believes the primary benefit of the new parking plan, besides reducing the parking on Frontage Road, will be to estimate just how many parking spaces Vail needs to satisfy demand.Telleen comes at the problem from a different direction. He believes that if the town spent more money on public transportation, specifically on ramping up the bus system, less locals would be forced to drive into town, freeing up parking spaces for guests.”Is it cheaper to build more parking or run more buses? I don’t know,” he says.Mike Rose, in the town’s transportation and parking department, does not believe Telleen’s idea is feasible.”The basic issue is with cars,” he says. “Americans love their cars.” He adds that the Vail bus system already has the third largest ridership in the state of Colorado, and that it’s 15-20-minute wait times in the season are as good as you’ll find anywhere.”The plan is for the short term,” admits Nicole Hoffman-Ewing, manager of the Rucksack and merchant representative for the Parking Task Force. She notes that a meeting is scheduled for this coming January to assess the plan thus far and make adjustments.”But the situation can’t be solved without building more parking,” she says.