Frontage parking a problem
The following is an excerpt from the Vail Homeowners Association newsletter. The association keeps a close eye on economic and political trends in and outside of the Vail community. The electronic version with links to supporting documents is available at http://www.vailhomeowners.com.
Some see Vail’s overflow parking as a measure of success; others see it as an unpreparedness to deal with Vail’s needs. For some, the availability of 15 days of overflow parking in the winter and summer (assuming that Vail is successful in again obtaining summer parking rights) is a justification for not doing anything else. Some would even expand frontage road parking beyond current limits, maybe with no limits, as a way to solve Vail’s parking needs and eliminate the necessity of having to make any further investment in parking facilities. Unfortunately, the parking problem has grown worse, in part because economic growth initiatives have not been coupled with increases in the supply of structured off-street public parking. However, one thing does seem clear. The founders of Vail would have never countenanced what has happened.
If remedial steps are not taken, then higher levels of tourism combined with public safety issues will come into even greater conflict once traffic diversions occur as part of the Simba Run Underpass project when construction begins in the spring of 2016. Traffic engineers expect to alternately close portions of the North and South Frontage roads during the two years it will take to complete the underpass project. Frontage road traffic could be compounded when I-70 is limited to one lane traffic through the spring while the underpass bridges are being constructed.
The Association believes that this is a situation that cries out for effective leadership before the situation gets worse and/or there is a terrible incident. It’s not that there aren’t solutions available. An additional floor could be added to the Lionshead structure, both the Vail and Lionshead structures could be expanded in other ways. Redevelopment of the municipal site is still a possibility and there is the potential for down-valley remote parking west of Dowd Junction. All are expensive but the Association believes that Vail has reached the point where this “gorilla in the room” can no longer be ignored.
There is no way to know what the future will bring, but the current situation exposes the need for greater transparency on the part of the town officials. On-street parking should be monitored and reported in an easily understood format and the town’s parking rights on the frontage roads should be readily available. Granted, any citizen that knew the questions to ask could have discovered what has happened, but that should not be the way government functions. Government works best when the governed know what their representatives are doing. It is through knowledge that accountability and responsibility prevail. And it is through obscurity that problems arise and fester.
The intensifying parking difficulties have also exposed another potential problem and it is rooted in the type of tourism that has been occurring in Vail during recent years. Tourism is one of the most important industries in America and that is especially true for Vail. However, it is a two-sided coin providing many economic benefits, but it can also bring unwanted burdens in the form of congestion and degraded resources if the community’s infrastructure is overloaded. If properly managed, its impacts can be beneficial, but it can be damaging if left uncontrolled.
Communities need to recognize the differences between mass-market tourism and what has been called “sustainable tourism.” The former is all about “heads in beds,” a high volume, high impact but often low yield approach. Think of the day a visitor who drops in, spends little and quickly leaves. Sustainable tourism on the other hand is high quality, focusing on the community’s natural and cultural assets. It is lower volume and lower impact but has a higher yield. Think of the destination visitor who stays to enjoy skiing, summer activities or one of Vail’s cultural gems.
In recent years, many have questioned whether it is time to refocus on the qualities that put Vail on the map in the first place. Whether it’s protection of the natural environment, fostering high-quality cultural experiences, enhancing the ski experience or summer fun, reducing congestion would seem to demand priority. In today’s marketplace the competition for tourist dollars is fierce. Clever marketing will get them once, but if they have less than an excellent experience, then repeat visitation will suffer.
If you are concerned about these issues or how your government is functioning, then make your voice heard. It is, after all, your future. And remember, an election is coming.