Busier RFTA faces parking crunch
The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority hasn’t forgotten about the parking crunch at several of its park and rides.
“We certainly recognize the shortage,” said RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship.
Overall ridership is up about 20 percent this year, with 4,132,995 riders in January through October 2014 compared with 3,433,108 for the same period last year. If the last two months keep the pace, ridership could top the 2008 record of 4.85 million riders.
Many of those riders bring their cars to RFTA lots, creating a crunch.
Blankenship said the 44-car lot on 27th Street in Glenwood Springs and Carbondale’s 100-space lot are often at or above capacity. The El Jebel park and ride sometimes fills up, but 50 overflow spaces on top of 75 standard slots is generally adequate, while Basalt rarely pushes the capacity of its 200-car lot.
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Carbondale, at least, should see some relief in the next year. Last year, RFTA purchased an adjacent plot of land and drafted a design for a 70-car expansion. RFTA received the necessary approvals from the town — namely, a setback reduction for Highway 133 — but had to table the project when bids for a 55-space park and ride in New Castle came in at twice the budgeted $500,000.
Blankenship hopes to put the Carbondale expansion out to bid in early 2015 and complete both it and the New Castle lot within the year.
Until then, folks may have to park elsewhere — like the vacant lot at Main Street and Highway 133 — and take the circulator.
That’s the approach Bob and Jane Lucas of Carbondale ultimately took recently, according to their letter to the editor.
“It added 15 minutes, at least, plus a ski transfer to our trip, and took the bloom off the great BRT experience,” they wrote. “It was the plan, we understood, to expand this lot last summer; since that did not happen, it seems sensible to maximize parking in the lot with maybe some markings and a relaxed enforcement.
Blankenship isn’t convinced that issuing fewer parking violations would help much.
“There’s just not a whole lot we’re going to be able to do to alleviate the parking crunch in Carbondale until we can expand the lot,” he said.
For the 27th Street location, RFTA may be obliged to get more creative.
The most viable space for expansion, the adjacent 2.6 acre Bell Rippy property, is both larger than the need and challenging to develop due to a city easement. RFTA has been working with Wal-Mart to provide around 40 spaces in the store’s nearby northern parking lot, but negotiations have yet to yield fruit.
In any case, Blankenship said, park and rides shouldn’t be the only tool in RFTA’s chest to encourage public transit use. Although they can be an efficient use of money, with initial capital costs subsidized by grants, they’re not always practical.
“Land is expensive, and it’s not always readily available,” noted Blankenship.
There may also be other options.
“I think we would like to move into the direction of developing feeder collector services, but we have to find a revenue stream to make that possible,” said Blankenship. “RFTA doesn’t currently have excess revenue to just add those services.”
ALL OF THE ABOVE
The agency is limited in the amount of sales tax it can levy, and even if it had the money, there’s the question of equity. Glenwood Springs runs its own feeder collector in town, and could cry foul if RFTA began serving other communities without requiring municipal buy-in.
There’s also an opportunity for some education and outreach.
Blankenship estimates that 10 to 20 percent of park and ride usage could be attributed to folks who carpool to work and use a RFTA lot to park and consolidate into one vehicle.
“That’s fantastic, and we want to encourage it, but maybe there are some other options for them to park elsewhere,” he said.
RFTA also hopes to encourage more people to walk or bike to the bus station, and will include additional bicycle parking in its Carbondale expansion.
“Carbondale is a remarkable community for people either walking to and from the BRT station or riding their bikes,” said Blankenship. “We want to try to accommodate and encourage that.”
Ultimately, it will probably take a combination of park and ride expansions and other strategies to meet the demand of the growing valley.
“My intuition tells me it’s all of the above,” said Blankenship. “I think that we would like to manage the growth if we can.”
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