While shoulder season brings a welcome respite from the hordes of skier traffic, a group of experts is seeking solutions for Breckenridge’s perennial parking woes. After an initial meeting in February, strategists with Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates and DTJ Design polled Breckenridge residents on their parking and transit priorities.
Both of Monday’s meetings brought a strong turnout, with attendees drawing up unexpected conclusions about the best course of action. For example, the majority of Breckenridge residents would prioritize walking, biking and public transit over vehicle traffic to reduce congestion. Surprisingly, they also supported the conversion of free lots to paid parking.
“I think it was just a reflection of an invested community. It was kind of refreshing to have that conversation,” DTJ Design president Bill Campie said. “It’s a little bit daunting to start and say, ‘How are we going to improve what we consider the model?’”
The group pared down the process to three major goals: creating a better guest experience, reducing traffic congestion (especially on Park Avenue) and increasing access to downtown businesses.
“We’ve decided Park is really the linchpin,” he added. “As soon as you can’t access Park, everything else starts to fall apart.”
According to an informal survey from Monday’s meeting, about 80 percent of Breckenridge residents would prioritize biking, walking and transit improvements over traffic.
“We had charts and charts of specific comments,” said Jeffrey Tumlin, principal and director of Strategy for Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates. “The interesting pattern to me is that they were very specific and very detailed, and there’s a recognition that the one giant project isn’t the thing the town should invest its resources in.”
For Park Avenue, he suggested bringing in a series of tight roundabouts that would slow down traffic enough to make it easier for pedestrians to cross.
Campie added that although there are crosswalks on Park Avenue, they are so often buried in snow that they do little to slow traffic or encourage pedestrians to cross.
“Right now, the problem with Park is either traffic is at a dead stop or going 30-35 mph,” Tumlin said. “We want to make the traffic steady but slow.”
Another innovative idea was to extend the current gondola to parking lots further outside of town, near Colorado Mountain College, for example, giving pedestrians an alternative means of transportation without clogging the streets downtown.
“They’re really great people movers,” Campie said, adding that stops near the Rec Center and other hubs might be a possibility.
“You can quickly get people into the heart of town and right up to the top of the mountain,” Tumlin added. “It’s surprisingly being used in a lot of places because of the flexibility of the system.”
LESS LOTS, MORE WALKS
Over the past few months of discussions, plans have moved away from creating a large parking structure in Breckenridge’s F-Lot and moved toward managing demand before expanding the town’s parking capacity.
“A lot of folks realizing that managing demand was a prerequisite before adding supply,” Tumlin said. “Folks were super interested in more parking at the edges of town and not so much at the center of town. People were interested in affordable housing and open space in the center of town.”
While building a large lot might seem like a simple solution, Tumlin explained that it was not only more expensive, but also a net increase in parking spaces downtown will lead to more traffic and, therefore, more congestion.
“People don’t like parking in parking structures, and they will avoid it if they possibly can,” he said. “They are always going to go to the most convenient space.”
According to him, it all circles back to the question at the heart of the issue: If the question is where to put parking downtown, “the answer is absolutely F-Lot,” Tumlin said.
However, if the question is how to best address congestion, improve downtown access and quality of life, the answer becomes a bit more complicated.
“Then the answer is not, I think, the parking structure on F-Lot, but rather spending that money in a more sophisticated and a more balanced way,” he said. “You shouldn’t just do one thing. You need to do a whole package of things that works together.”
Overwhelmingly, poll results supported constructing a parking structure outside of the town core. Tumlin pointed to the town’s solution with Ski Hill Road as an example of success, by moving the parking lots off the hill and connecting to the ski resort with a gondola.
“You can apply in a somewhat more complex matter that exact same package of solutions to address the traffic congestion problem on Park and Main,” he said.
When it came to finding a solution that would support both locals and tourists, Tumlin was relatively optimistic.
“You don’t have to pit them against each other. You can create a solution that benefits everyone,” he said. “I don’t think you have to make that choice, and that is an extraordinary advantage.”