Airport parking

The list of attractions that bring people to Durango is long and diverse. Outdoor recreation, excellent restaurants and a vibrant arts and music scene are just a few of the many offerings that make ours such a fine town to visit. But before and after all that, there is the convenience of the Durango-La Plata County Airport – namely the easygoing drop-off and pickup situation that allows for a quick walk into the airport to greet or send off loved ones without a trip through the gated parking lot. An ordinance making its way through the La Plata County Board of County Commissioners would change that. It should not.

Commissioners gave preliminary approval this week to a rule change that would add chief parking enforcer to Airport Director Kip Turner’s list of duties, allowing him to deputize his staff to patrol and ticket vehicles left in the drop-off and pickup lanes in front of the airport. It is already against the rules to park in those lanes, but the county has no authority to enforce those rules. The new ordinance would change that, giving airport personnel leeway to levy $15 parking tickets on cars left unattended. It is an unnecessary step.

Commissioners are responding to a few factors – some more valid than others. It certainly makes sense for the county to be able to enforce rules it has already set, but whether those rules were needed in the first place is the first question commissioners should ask. While Turner claims that the current situation is dangerous, citing one pedestrian-vs.-car mishap as evidence, those incidents surely can not be so significant in number as to warrant a $15-a-pop crackdown. Further, it is just as likely that pedestrians wandering through the paid parking lots face danger among the vehicles. Outlawing short-term parking in the drop-off lanes will not solve this real or imagined problem: People will still use the lanes for their intended purpose, and pedestrians will still have to navigate through the cars.

Also, the Transportation Safety Administration does not care for the relaxed drop-off attitude because Durango’s is the only airport that allows it. That is circular logic: This is true everywhere else, so it should be true here. But why?

The drop-off and pickup lanes at the Durango-La Plata County Airport are a quaint convenience that cause no significant harm. Forcing people into the parking lots – which are free for the first 30 minutes – adds an unnecessary layer of potential complication to the airport trip. Many times, the lots are full; other times, the ticket machine refuses to dispense the goods. By outlawing a brief occupancy of the drop-off lanes, those larger parking problems would have to be addressed. This attempt to solve what is not now a problem would deliver a list of things that need money and attention. The county would be better leaving well enough alone.

As Commissioner Gwen Lachelt said, “ ... it is a departure from what has become a decades-long tradition in La Plata County of pulling up in front of airport and running in. We want the public to be aware of this, and we’re going to ease into it, and we’re not just going to rule with an iron fist.”

That is good. Perhaps the easing can take as many decades as the tradition itself.

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