Vail Valley Voices: The parking puzzle |

Vail Valley Voices: The parking puzzle

Vail Homeowners Association
Vail, CO Colorado

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from the Vail Homeowners Association monthly report in April. We plan to publish weekly excerpts from the association, which keeps a close eye on economic and political trends in and outside the town. The newsletter’s electronic version with links to supporting documents is available at

Objective and independent analysis necessary for parking:-There is now a need to identify and authenticate other approaches; all credible strategies should be on the table. For new approaches to gain a foothold, viable business models need to be provided to community leaders.-A change in approach will be unsettling to those who have institutional or self-interests in maintaining the status quo, therefore a phasing in period should be a consideration in any method that is recommended.

Futures past, and beyond: Vail in the early years (1960s) of its founding was planned and developed to avoid having on-street public parking.-Mixed-use commercial/residential villages (Vail Village and Lionshead) were developed to be pedestrian friendly with public parking on their periphery in large centralized parking lots.- As these areas grew, private parking was required by the newly formed municipal government to be off-street and enclosed in all new buildings.

The centralized public parking lots in the 1970s were developed into multi-story parking structures by the town of Vail on land provided by the ski mountain operators, Vail Resorts Inc. The parking structures became known as transportation centers as they incorporated mass transportation bus terminals along with support services.

These large parking structures were strategically located adjacent to the community’s frontage roads, which are arterial roadways with the highest speeds and traffic capacity that provide access to the entire community.-Importantly, particularly during rush hours, they give ready access to Interstate 70, which bisects the length of the community.- Interstate 70 is the route to the Denver Front Range, Vail’s primary regional drive market and airport portal.

Better becomes bigger: In recent years new, bigger buildings with large parking structures were allowed by the town government to be constructed along the Frontage Road.- Many more remain to be built when economic conditions warrant. Several of these developments have added significantly to the inventory of public parking. These developments’ proximity to the frontage roads was the reason that they were allowed to be expansive traffic generators.

In recent years, parking shortages during both winter and summer peak tourism seasons were in large measure caused by the workers constructing these projects.-The last of the building boom projects were completed in December of 2010. The construction workers have departed, as have parking shortages.-It remains to be seen if summer parking shortages will be correspondingly affected.

Similarly, in the community’s lore, skier traffic has also been a cause of parking shortages.-The town and Vail Resorts have scrimmaged over the degree of culpability since the inception of the community.-This winter season, Vail Resorts has demonstrated under favorable snow and improved economic conditions, their business plan for Vail is less of a factor in creating public parking shortages than many had presumed.- Typically, it is a blue sky, powder snow day that brings out the locals, which causes overflow parking to occur.

There are those who believe that public parking in Vail has now become a resource management issue rather than a shortage of supply. There are political interests demanding “free parking,” which, until the construction boom shortages, the town discouraged.-The town through its public parking policies has created a political and financial quandary both for itself and the private sector. Free parking is lost revenues.-Few of those demanding free parking own property or vote in Vail elections.

Frontage Road parking adding complexity:-There is overflow parking for an estimated 1,000 vehicles on the North and South Frontage Roads.- The parking is for the most part free, as the frontage roads are located on state and federal highway right-of-ways. Federal and state highway guidelines, with rare exception, prohibit parking for a fee on their right-of-ways.-The town of Vail limits frontage road parking to 15 days in winter and three in the summer.-Rarely does frontage road parking exceed 400 spaces. However, in winter there is daily parking allowed on the Frontage Road adjacent to the West Vail shopping area for an estimated 100 vehicles. These spaces are filled on a daily basis either by employees or skiers. There is limited documentation as to whether the town recoups lost parking revenues through sales tax generated by benefited businesses.

The frontage road overflow parking policy has taken on a political life of its own and therefore cannot be ignored in assessing parking pricing policy.-Particularly since the town is in negotiations with state and federal authorities to take over ownership of the Frontage Roads, which would be a game changer.

There could be significant revenue potential for the town, if they begin charging a fee for frontage road parking.-Federal and state authorities, sidestepping restrictions in their guidelines, have granted a special “pilot” program that allows the town to sell permits for frontage road parking to local employees.

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