With one of the busiest holiday weekends quickly approaching, Breckenridge is seeking solutions to the town’s worsening congestion problem.
Parking dominated the conversation during Tuesday’s marathon town council work session. Despite months of work by DTJ Design and Nelson\Nygaard consultants, the four-hour discussion was just the beginning of a larger comprehensive transportation plan.
Consultants identified parking management (read: pay parking) and real-time parking information as two solutions with the most potential to reduce peak traffic volume within the town. Creating additional parking spaces downtown might seem like a simple solution, but is actually estimated to increase traffic volume anywhere from 2 to 10 percent, depending on the number of spaces.
Councilmembers expressed interest in building a new parking structure: the question was when and where. While F-Lot was recommended in a 2014 feasibility study, the most recent report by consultants suggested a larger, squarer space would be better.
PICKING A PARCEL
With the passing of Ballot Measure 2A last fall, the town will receive a minimum of $3.5 million toward a parking and transportation fund each year through a 4.5-percent tax levied on Breckenridge Ski Resort lift tickets. The town will begin collecting the tax on lift-ticket presales starting July 1, but it will not affect season passes.
In a turn of events, Breckenridge Mayor Eric Mamula reported he had discussed purchasing the gondola lots from the ski resort. While there is no agreement on the table, Mamula said he was “cautiously optimistic in the discussions that we’ve already had.”
“They seem pretty open to it and we are trying to come up with a price,” he said.
Breckenridge Ski Resort COO John Buhler did not discuss the potential deal when he approached town council on Tuesday, but maintained the town should push for a solution starting next summer:
“We are very focused on ensuring that the Council proceed with adding significant new skier parking in the core of Town, as was promised during the campaign for the tax last year,” he wrote in an email. “We think the Town should consider any option that accomplishes that goal, but it is critical that design of a project commences in 2016 and construction in the spring of 2017.”
Two week prior, Buhler read a statement before the town, requesting they renew the focus on F-Lotand start the planning process soon. While councilmembers expressed mixed opinions about F-lot as a site, most supported additional parking in the town core.
“Personally, I’m not into hypothetical conversations,” Councilman Mike Dudick said. “I think we should have a conversation with the ski resort quickly to see if there’s a deal.”
He added that additional parking downtown, rather than at the edges, would make for a better customer experience. Councilwoman Elisabeth Lawrence echoed these sentiments.
“It’s the guest experience. If someone wanted to mark me two miles out of town, that’s not what I’m paying for,” she said.
Councilman Mark Burke, however, favored incremental parking in lots currently owned by the town.
“That’s gonna be a tough one for me to swallow,” he said. “I don’t see value in paying to buy the lot from them, and then paying to build additional parking for them.”
The gondola lots were master planned in 2010, outlining concepts for hotels, parking structures, skier services and housing. Between the economic downturn, and Vail Resorts moving away from the real estate business, the lot has just seen improvements with the gondola, limited paving and a bus turnaround.
“There was never really a time frame with any sort of triggers,” Mamula said. “We could potentially do some kind of structure that has affordable housing around it. The options are pretty limitless.”
PAY TO PARK
Breckenridge Mayor Pro-Tem Wendy Wolfe strongly supported parking management prior to building a new structure.
“I think it’s an absolute prerequisite before we can add new parking,” she said. “Consequently, the sooner, the better.”
The key, according to consultants, is charging for parking to manage demand; not for the purpose of profiting.
“This is not your grandma’s paid parking,” Breckenridge town manager Rick Holman said. “This is something that is highly, highly recommended by consultants as one of the most important things we could do.”
“We would start as low as we can, see if we’re making the impact we intend to make, and if not, adjust the prices accordingly,” assistant town manager Shannon Haynes said.
Employee parking was another concern: While having a certain number of hours or certain times free was a possibility, councilmembers also discussed permitting. For example, the town could retain employee parking away from heavily-trafficked visitor areas, or charge more for permits in lots closer to Main Street.
“I don’t think it’s right to charge more or start charging for people without giving an alternate option,” Councilwoman Erin Gigliello said.
Councilman Jeffrey Bergeron voiced his agreement, adding the town should improve transit options if employee parking is affected. In his previous term on council, Bergeron did not support paid parking downtown.
“I’m in favor of it with reluctance,” he said. “I think the time has come. I liked this place better in the ’70s.”