Provocative, unrealistic and contrary to community transit goals were some of the descriptors Aspen City Council members used when asked their thoughts on putting a public parking garage underneath Wagner Park.
Absent a major philosophical change on the elected board, the idea — pushed by some as a way to increase foot traffic and sales receipts in shops, bars and restaurants — is likely to remain just that, Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron said.
The concept of a garage, which has sparked spirited debate on the opinion pages of Aspen’s newspapers, is “not on the radar,” Skadron said, meaning there is no proposal in front of the city, nor is there any discussion about it planned for a council work session.
The hubbub began earlier this summer when Susan O’Neal, a part-time resident from Arizona, began writing letters to the editor and speaking at City Council meetings in favor of a centrally located underground garage. O’Neal said many people she knows who live outside of town are deterred from coming in for dinner because parking spaces can be tough to find near the popular restaurants.
“I think there is a ground-swell of people who told me they favor underground parking as a means of reducing congestion,” O’Neal said, explaining that by reducing congestion, she means reducing the amount of block-circling one must do to find a spot.
O’Neal said she doesn’t think a new underground parking garage would increase the overall volume of traffic coming into town.
Other Aspen City Council members don’t share that view.
“Doesn’t that just encourage additional driving?” council member Art Daily said last week, when asked about a Wagner Park parking garage.
The city maintains a parking garage between the Pitkin County Library and Rio Grande Park, which according to assistant city manager Randy Ready only fills up during the Christmas and Fourth of July weeks. It is a few blocks from anything downtown, but the walk does have an incline.
O’Neal said that garage is too far of a walk for “a lady wearing high heels” heading to dinner.
With planned work to install new irrigation and re-grade Wagner Park, as well as remodel the Rubey Park bus depot next door, O’Neal said the city should look at the big picture, and the possibility of new underground parking, before spending those millions.
In fact, one of City Council’s top 10 goals for the next year is starting a downtown master plan for Wagner Park, the walking malls, Rubey Park and Durant Avenue.
Skadron said a new parking garage is contrary to Aspen’s transit goals, which for at least 20 years have focused on holding down the number of private automobiles using the Highway 82 entrance to town, as well as shifting more people onto buses and bikes.
“I think the town’s future is in the opposite direction” from more parking, Skadron said.
He said he might support expanding the walking malls downtown, which would reduce on-street parking. Currently, just over three city blocks are car-free.
Councilman Dwayne Romero said the parking garage idea was “provocative,” but probably not realistic. “Community will” is not likely to back such a project, he said.
For O’Neal, the city is sending a mixed message if it says it wants vitality and people downtown, but doesn’t offer adequate parking.
“I don’t think it makes any sense to create events and bring people into Aspen and not accommodate their vehicles,” she said. “People and their vehicles are intrinsically linked. ... The city has to decide, do you want people to come into town or do you not want them to?”