Vail Daily column: Vail Frontage Road parking a problem
Editor’s note: 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.vail homeowners.com.
Vail’s parking problem has intensified. An investigation by the Vail Homeowners Association has revealed that frontage roads parking increased exponentially this summer. Figures obtained from the town by the association show that already this summer, with the Labor Day weekend still to come, there have been 19 days of frontage roads parking due to the parking structures being full. When added to the overflow parking during the winter ski season that means 2014-15 is on the way to becoming the highest year of frontage roads parking in the history of Vail. And with the town of Vail and Vail Resorts revving up promotion of summers in Vail, it is a situation that will only grow worse. Aside from the unsightliness of overflow parking and its impact on the Vail “brand,” the association is concerned that we have passed the tipping point on public safety as visitors randomly have to cross heavily traveled roads, becoming a hazard to themselves and drivers.
For years it was generally understood that there was a 15-day seasonal limit on overflow parking — 15 days in the winter and 15 days in the summer. Obviously this summer will end up significantly over that limit. But when the association tried to pin down the source of that limitation, it uncovered a very complex and confusing situation.
Part of the difficulty in assessing the parking problem is that different departments of the town’s government report data in either different ways or use conflicting data sets. For example, the number of days of frontage roads parking for this past winter has been reported variously as five days and 14 days. It would seem that this is a known number since, until this year, CDOT has required Vail to report such days on a regular basis. But one thing is clear: The trend is toward more on-street parking especially in the summer months. Another difficulty in assessing the problem is understanding the responsibilities of the town and CDOT, which have gone through some significant changes over the past year.
The frontage roads “belong” to the Colorado Department of Transportation. In Vail’s early years the community’s founders banned all on-street parking. At some point, CDOT authorized limited frontage roads parking and it has been in effect ever since. It was, however, limited to only overflow situations. In other words, the only times that Vail could allow parking on the frontage roads was when the parking structures were full. Hence the ritual on good snow days of drivers circling around waiting for the structures to fill up. For example, the 2014 parking lease allowed up to 30 days of overflow parking for the year and required Vail to report to CDOT each day that overflow parking occurred. There were, however, no provisions in the lease for what would occur if the town breached the lease by allowing more than 30 cumulative days (according to the town’s data there were only 14 days of overflow parking that year). Apparently no one thought that exceeding the limit would ever occur.
The terms of the town’s parking lease changed this year. Instead of a one-year lease, the current lease is for three years, but it covers just the ski seasons (Dec. 1 to May 1 of each year). The lease allows up to 30 days of parking but only during that period. In other words, the town did not have the “right” to allow parking on frontage roads this summer. In addition, the new lease removed the “overflow” requirement which gave Vail the right to permit parking on the frontage roads for any reason it chooses. The town could permit parking on frontage roads on any days it chose just so long as there were not a cumulative number of days more than 30. Apparently, with large town-owned insurance policies to protect it, CDOT has washed its hands of Vail’s frontage roads parking and public safety problem. These changes have occurred quietly, with minimal public disclosure and only came to light as a by-product of the association’s investigation of this summer’s overflow parking frequency.
Town officials explained, in lieu of written reports, the town officials now have monthly meetings with CDOT. It is unknown what the reasons are for this, since there is no oversight by CDOT and no consequences for going over the limit. It is a scenario that is reminiscent of the meetings that occur between Vail Resorts and the United States Forest Service when the mountain capacity is exceeded.
The town officials also advised the association that the permitted 30 days of parking have been allocated by the Town Council equally between the winter and summer, although, as noted, the town had no right to do so since it presently has no summer parking rights. Reportedly, the town is currently trying to obtain summer parking rights.