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Our View: Downtown parking quandary: Whose needs take precedence?

Parking. Not a topic that’s morally problematic. Yet, it’s contentious in neighborhoods east of downtown Durango. States of agitation have reached such a pitch, the city is being pressed to act.

The crux of the problem: Who deserves to park where? Whose needs should take precedence?

And we’re talking about street parking, a public right of way. Why shouldn’t the public be allowed to park there?

Preferred parking for employees, shoppers and, sometimes tourists, headed downtown is alongside East 3rd Avenue – The Boulevard – and on other avenues and streets farther east.

A couple of reasons this parking is primo. Some drivers don’t want to pay for metered parking in town. For workers, it can be difficult to step away from jobs to feed the meter every couple of hours, and they get citations.

It’s just easier to park east of downtown. Unless a better option surfaces, drivers will continue to circle the blocks, looking for parking.

The permitting program could, though, become a reality soon enough, considering 75 residents showed up to Wednesday’s meeting about the idea.

Kenzie Coulson, parking consultant for Walker Consultants, contracted by the city for its Comprehensive Parking Management Plan in 2022, deflated some neighborhood residents’ hopes early on, explaining a permit did not mean parking in front of their homes.

Let’s face it, this would be their ideal situation. A placard on top of a dashboard that guaranteed a spot any time of day.

This won’t happen because it’s unenforceable. Besides, municipal resources going toward a code enforcer checking permits continually, making sure the right vehicle is in front of the right property, would not go over well with taxpayers in other parts of Durango.

Instead, permitted parking would likely be within a range of blocks.

But how to determine the number per household? What about the large, once stately home rented to five college students? Should each renter hold a permit? What about a property owner with a two-car garage and a driveway? Should he receive one? Or a resident with a parking spot off an alley?

A deep dive into the complexities brings us back to square one. Should there be a parking permitting program at all? Is it worth the trouble? Residents could very well continue to park a block away, schlepping bags of groceries, making multiple trips.

Just getting the program to pass would be something as the bar is high – 51% of all property owners in the neighborhood east of downtown would have to approve it.

The city plans to send out ballots. First, it’s tough to get 51% of people to fill out ballots on any issue, including those that matter more to them. And 51% would have to check “yes.” A tall order.

Another concern is pushing the parking situation farther onto outlying streets. Some say to be effective, a permitting program must be in conjunction with something else, as in a parking structure. But don’t bet on the city going there, at this time.

If a parking structure, one day, were to be built, chances are it would be near the Transit Center on West 8th Street, which already has available parking. Unless there’s a parade or downtown celebration, spots are usually open. At $5 daily or $30 for a month, it’s not expensive.

One drawback, though, is walking to vehicles at night. After hours, with its proximity to Camino del Rio, that area can feel urban-sketchy.

So again, the strong pull back toward parking on the avenues, shared by all.

Within this parking quandary, one point makes good sense – clearly marked, delineated spaces. White lines bright enough to see exactly where to park. For people who are parking-challenged and pull in at a distance from a corner with no room for another vehicle, this is for you.

For those who have not yet mastered parallel parking, this could be troublesome. So go park in the Transit Center lot.

A parking permitting program might provide relief for property owners, but it’s potentially at the expense of workers and those looking to spend money downtown. It doesn’t mean we’re opposed. But it won’t solve Durango’s parking problems.