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Just 74% of on-street parking used at peak hours in downtown Durango

Better communication, improved signage and fluid meter rates could direct traffic to less-used locations
Kylene Jones, aka “Socks,” a parking enforcement officer, walks past a row of empty parking meters in March 2020. Residents have demanded a parking garage for years, but parking space available today isn’t being used to its full potential. While the city isn’t ruling out a parking garage in the future, cheaper short-term accommodations could meet current demand (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Residents have demanded a parking garage for years, but parking space available today isn’t being used to its full potential. While the city isn’t ruling out a parking garage in the future, cheaper short-term accommodations could meet current demand.

In partnership with Walker Consultants, the city has created a comprehensive parking plan that was presented to Durango City Council at a study session on Tuesday. Members of Walker Consultants provided short- and long-term recommendations of steps to take to address parking needs in Durango.

Some recommendations, such as increased signage directing drivers to public parking areas and increased public communication about those areas, can be implemented simply. Other recommendations, such as an expanded parking management staff and additional parking facilities (such as a parking garage) would take longer to implement and come with a hefty financial cost.

Walker Consultants conducted a parking study by reviewing city parking and land-use data, and taking feedback from locals. The consultant determined that on average only 74% of public on-street parking spaces are used during peak hours downtown.

However, during the busiest time of the year in 2018 and 2021, capacity during peak parking hours rose to 88% on Fridays and 85% on other weekdays, according to the final draft comprehensive parking plan.

Assuming an average annual growth of 2%, the occupancy of downtown parking spaces won’t reach 88% until 2030. By 2045, occupancy would hit 118% (an additional 166 spaces worth of used parking), according to data presented by Walker Consultants.

But as of 2017, the city hadn’t met previous conservative estimates of downtown parking occupancy, said Chrissy Jones, of Walker Consultants. Conservative estimates currently project downtown occupancy of on-street parking to reach 81% in 2030 and 94% by 2045.

Wade Moore, city parking manager, said in an interview with The Durango Herald in August that the Durango Transit Center lot, which contains cheap permit parking priced at $30 for a monthly pass and has been suggested as the site for a parking garage, sits nearly vacant while paid meter spaces just a couple blocks over fill up.

Councilor Jessika Buell said she drove past the Transit Center at 6 p.m. on Noel Night – a busy downtown shopping spree – and the Transit Center had about 100 open spaces.

“This (a parking garage) is a massive financial lift that the city will be considering,” Jones said.

She said between now and the next five to six years is the time to consider how a parking garage might be financed because a garage would cost “tens of millions of dollars just for a simple concrete box.”

Short-term recommendations made by Walker Consultants might affect the city’s ability to pay for such a project as well as meet some of the demand a garage is intended to address, she said.

Quick fixes for parking demand

The public perception of a lack of parking supply, especially downtown, is “a question that needs answered,” Jones said. After all, for many, “perception is reality.”

Mobile payment integration with parking meters and smartphones would be relatively easy to implement and could help pay for other short- and long-term efforts to meet parking demand, she said.

Updating city code to allow for residential parking permits could benefit the parking situation, too.

Jones said the East Third Avenue neighborhood adjacent to downtown suffers issues with parking supply and availability and could benefit from such a program.

Parking permit programs would differ based on neighborhood. One neighborhood might have permanent parking in addition to timed parking spaces while another might have only residential permit parking, Jones said.

“That’s something that would need to be explored with city staff along with those residents as that specific zone was being developed and outlaid,” she said.

Scott Shine, community development director, said the city has received many requests to convert downtown office and retail space into residential use. But city code requires downtown residential properties to include enough parking for each residential user.

City staff members asked Walker Consultants to look into the implementation of residential parking permit programs that could possibly take advantage of overnight transit lot spaces or other public lots, including on-street space, he said.

Code updates are a high priority that staff members will tackle as soon as the comprehensive plan is approved by City Council, Shine said.

Adjusting the prices of metered parking spaces is another option the city has at its disposal, Jones said. She called it enhanced demand-based parking pricing. Walker Consultants recommended the city add another tier to its pricing structure to raise the demand of underused spaces.

Moore said if a specific area is over 80% capacity, parking could be raised by 20 cents for those meters. When capacity falls below a certain threshold the city could reconsider lowering the meter price again.

Flexible parking passes, which encourage users to drive and park one day and take public transportation the next day, are also an option, Jones said.

“Park and ride” programs, or city-sponsored car- and vanpool operations, are more options the city can consider, she said. The city would sponsor a van in which carpoolers can park, load in and commute to the Transit Center or a designated place using the van, reducing the need for public parking and the number of vehicles on the road. “Significant” federal funding is available for such programs, she said.

The city is still accepting feedback from the public about Durango’s parking future, the application for which is available online at durangogov.org/1629/Parking-Study

cburney@durangoherald.com

An earlier version of this story gave in incorrect last name for Chrissy Jones with Walker Consultants.

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