Vail Valley Voices: Avon faces big transit challenge
Avon, CO, Colorado
The town of Avon is looking to improve transportation and is preparing for the next stage of development.
Several years of community input and recent analysis of Avon’s transportation system has identified three primary challenges facing the yown: lack of connectivity, inadequate parking that services both existing and future development, and insufficient mass transit funding and service.
Avon anticipates that private development projects, public urban renewal projects, and changes to Beaver Creek free parking will force the town to undergo rapid and significant change within the next five years.
Avon has unique challenges to connect the disparate parts of town. Two state highways, the Union Pacific railroad and Eagle River divide the town. Development between the east and west ends of Avon is spread out.
Over 800 residents at Buffalo Ridge have no bus service at all.
Each year the town negotiates with Beaver Creek Resort Co. over service from Avon to the Covered Bridge stop in Beaver Creek.
There is consensus among citizens, council members and city planners that the lack of connections between the various parts of Avon are problematic and requires a proactive approach in order to meet the town’s goals.
The Avon Comprehensive Plan, the Avon Transportation Plan, and local zoning ordinances, direct the town toward compact, pedestrian-scale density in the town center. These plans call for transit-oriented development with links to popular destinations, affordable housing, and commercial areas.
The current Avon Transit bus system and the new Riverfront gondola were the first steps toward connectivity.
Additional expansion of transit service, plus new bike lanes, walking trails, pedestrian crossings, and public parking will be necessary to achieve the town’s goals.
The need for additional public parking is quite noticeable during ski season when mountain visitors overflow Beaver Creek’s lots to park in town and along on Highway 6. This problem will worsen once the area becomes denser and Beaver Creek expands Strawberry Park, upgrades lifts and skier capacity, and starts charging for parking.
Currently, Avon operates a fare-free bus system, which is fully subsidized by the town’s general fund at a cost of over $1 million per year. Avon Transit service has historically been adjusted up and down, depending on available annual revenue and spending priorities. A dedicated funding source is needed to allow Avon Transit to operate sustainably in the long-term.
Avon Transit operates several routes at a frequency ranging from 7 minutes (winter gondola shuttle servicing the hotels and lodges) to 30 minutes (full loop between City Market and Agave). The Village at Avon, which includes over 400 housing units at Buffalo Ridge, is not served by Avon Transit.
Transportation experts have offered specific suggestions on how to overcome some of Avon’s connectivity challenges.
The Avon Comprehensive Transportation Plan, adopted by the Town in 2009, includes detailed technical analysis and recommendations to address Avon’s transportation challenges.
Construction of a 500-stall structured parking garage near the recreation center with a cost of $20 million, not including land, is recommended. Over $12 million of pedestrian improvements are also recommended.
Additional bus routes to unserved areas such as Buffalo Ridge, bus storage facilities, fleet replacement, and on-going bus service all need to be funded to fulfill goals.
In total, the town’s consultants have recommended nearly $100 million of investment in transportation in Avon over the next 20-25 years.
Solving the transportation and connectivity challenges will take time. It will take up to five years to plan, design and build a parking structure and other major capital components.
“We need to start now,” says Town Manager Larry Brooks, “to be pro-active and avoid costly mistakes. We expect private investment to return to Avon when the economy picks up, especially in our core areas of town. We have a unique opportunity to lead development and make great strides in improving connectivity and vibrancy in Avon.”
The Avon Town Council, the Planning and Zoning commissioners, and town staff have been reviewing the recent analysis and associated planning documents. They are looking to prioritize the most important improvements and determine what can realistically be done and funded in the next 10 to15 years.
Avon is drafting a project proposal called “Connect Avon Now,” which would create a dependable source of funding for transit, provide stability in the level of bus service, supply revenue to construct a parking garage, and enhance pedestrian and bicycle trails. Connect Avon Now is open for public review and comment this spring.
For more information on the Transportation Plan or on Connect Avon Now, visit http://www.Avon.org/ConnectAvonNow.
Jaime Walker is the community relations officer for the town of Avon.