The city of Durango is about to lose 10 parking spaces on East Third Avenue in order to improve visibility for drivers by cutting back shrubbery and keeping vehicles from blocking the view. That is understandable. Public safety has to be government’s top priority, and the number of collisions and incidents along that street clearly shows that is a proper focus.
But the loss of any parking points to an area where the city has been inexplicably inactive. Parking is not a public safety issue, but it is an issue that concerns every member of the public.
The city has long been interested in – focused on? obsessed with? – pedestrians and bicyclists. But Durango is not some urban planner’s dream. Nor is it some quaint European village.
Durango – traffic on Camino del Rio notwithstanding – is still a small town. And it is in the rural West, surrounded, not by suburbia and malls amenable to light rail or buses, but by vast stretches of sparsely populated country.
Folks around here drive a lot. People in rural La Plata County do not walk or ride their bikes into town to shop. Workers, pushed by housing costs to live in Mancos or Bayfield, drive to their jobs in Durango. And there are no cruise ships. Tourists, whether on a true road trip or just coming from the airport, typically arrive in Durango by car.
They all need to park somewhere.
But for all that the city has largely ignored the problem. In fact, it has too often made things worse. Cleaning up the visibility at intersections will improve safety. But the downtown bump-outs along Main Avenue, while a brilliant response to COVID-19, in the long-term represent a loss of parking spaces.
Above all, the city has done little to advance the idea of a dedicated parking structure. That kind of facility is not only needed, it would benefit everyone across the board.
Workers would gain from having a safe and secure place to park, out of the sun and weather. Businesses would benefit from having parking for their workers and more parking for their customers. The city would likely stand to win as well from having greater turnover and revenue from on-street parking spots.
Plus, it is not even necessary to fight about where such a facility might be located. The city’s transit center was designed and built with adding a parking garage in mind.
It is unclear why the city has not embraced such thinking. It may be the money. A parking structure large enough to matter is no small thing. Its cost would certainly be considerable.
But so too would be its value to the community. And with that, it seems more likely that what is missing is the requisite vision and political will.
Perhaps those could be supplied by the voters. If enough residents let City Council know that parking should be a priority, those 10 spaces rightly sacrificed for public safety might not be missed.