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May 2015 • Online Edition

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No Easy Fix For Parking Woes As Denver Densifies | Print |  E-mail

by Eric Peterson

A Nov. 1 public hearing on the new parking rules and regulations put forth by the City and County of Denver was postponed due to a lot of rumors and “confusion,” say city officials.

The major misunderstanding? Many people thought the city was cutting back on residential permits that have become dominant in dense areas like Capitol Hill and Highland, or starting to charge for such permits. The hearing has yet to be rescheduled.

“There have been a lot of misconceptions about our new rules and regulations,” says Cindy Patton, senior city planner with the City and County of Denver.

“We’re not trying to take permits away from anyone,” echoes Sean Mackin, the city’s parking operations manager.

The city will send everyone with a residential parking permit a renewal form for 2014, but people moving into new buildings with nine or more units “will get a more thorough review,” says Patton. People in residential permit blocks in single-unit dwellings or apartments with eight or fewer units will receive permits as before.

The main changes for 2014, say Patton and Mackin, are two new kinds of permits, one for high-traffic areas like schools and another more flexible residential permit that can be customized for “zones,” rather than forcing residents to park on their block and only their block.

People were also up in arms due to the spectre of a $40 fee for residential permits, but this will not be the case in 2014, says Mackin, and the permits will remain free. That could, however, change in the future.

 “The on-street resource is limited -- it doesn’t grow,” says Mackin. “Parking is an elastic product so we can shift patterns with pricing.”

If $40 fees were implemented for residential permits, it would be to cover administration costs and not generate revenue, says Emily Williams, spokesperson for Denver Public Works, noting that the city currently subsidizes the residential permit program with about $1 million in funding annually. (The city collected about $29 million from parking meters and citations in 2012, and all that revenue goes into the general fund.)

Patton says the city is supporting car-sharing, bike-sharing, and transit-oriented development, easing some of the pressure. Regardless, she adds, “There is still a demand for vehicle ownership. We’re trying to maximize the off-street supply.”

As one initiative to do so, the city started its Accessory Parking Program in 2010 to make it easier for businesses to convert their lots into paid parking at night.

Growth and new development “are really good things, but they come with challenges,” says Patton. “Denver is growing and people are coming here because it’s a great place to live. But we’re a lot different from San Francisco, Chicago, or Portland. Everyone wants to have their car to go to the mountains on weekends.”

The tightest parking spots in the city are downtown as well as LoHi, Capitol Hill, and Cherry Creek -- but Baker and Platt Park have their issues as well.

“There’s not enough parking on South Pearl,” says Kaelen Gueymard, president of the Platt Park People’s Association. “It’s because it’s a successful business area and an attractive destination.”

Gueymard says the finite nature of on-street parking and the increased business activity on South Pearl, along with new residential development in the general vicinity, means “there aren’t a lot of solutions to this problem. We can’t pull a rabbit out of the hat.”

“It’s something we need to explore together, and we need the city to provide technical assistance,” says Gueymard.

In 2011, the city did a parking occupancy study of the South Pearl district between Arkansas and Mexico avenues and Washington and Pennsylvania streets that found ample parking in the morning and afternoon, and more demand in the evening, but “not at the level or consistency being reported,” according to city officials.

Now that additional restaurants like Session Kitchen and Una Mas Taqueria have opened on South Pearl, the city is planning a follow-up study in early 2014.

In Baker, there are three distinct parking scenarios for the north, central, and south parts of the neighborhood, says Matthew Wasserburger, chair of the Baker Historic Neighborhood Association’s parking committee. Near 6th Ave., “Everyone is concerned about Denver Health,” he says. Employees compete with residents and customers for limited street parking.

In the heart of Baker around Broadway and 1st Ave., it’s a different story. “Residents who were used to parking on the street are now competing with patrons of restaurants and bars,” says Wasserburger. Closer to Broadway and I-25 there is no shortage of street parking, but that could change with a major mixed-use, transit-oriented development in the works.

Some blocks in Baker have residential permits, and others don’t. “They tend to be pretty haphazard,” says Wasserburger.

After a meeting with city officials in May, residents and merchants were both “pretty upset,” he adds, and for different reasons. “The residents and the merchants are the furthest apart. We have no official position yet.”

Residents want more blocks with residential permit parking and more flexible permits, while merchants of course want fewer restrictions on customers so they can more readily find a place to park.

One possible solution, offered by the city’s Accessory Parking Program, is leveraging the parking lots of banks and other businesses after hours in dining and nightlife destinations like Baker. Wasserburger also hopes for “half and half solutions” that balance residential permits on one side of a block and less restrictions on the other.

But the parking scarcities on South Pearl and Broadway pale in comparison to those in Cherry Creek, and it’s going to get worse.

Wayne New, president of the Cherry Creek North Neighborhood Association, says new mixed-use zoning (C-MX-5 and C-MX-8) allows for taller buildings and about 70 percent less parking per square foot of development than before.

“We’re projecting a 50 percent buildout in 10 years,” says New. “Most of this growth is going to happen between 2nd and 3rd avenues.”

The new C-MX-5 and C-MX-8 zoning allows for “less than one parking space per residential unit – which is unbelievable,” says New. Previous zoning required two spaces per residential unit.

Worse yet, retail and office are even more parking-intensive, so if the buildout slants away from an expected 48 percent residential and 52 percent office and retail breakdown, the problem could escalate.

The Cherry Creek North and Country Club residential neighborhood associations funded a traffic and parking study by TDA Colorado in 2013.

There is still projected to be fewer than 600 metered spaces in Cherry Creek North in 2023, just as there is in 2013, says New, making for a serious deficiency in on-street parking. “If the meters are fixed, you have to have off-street parking,” he says. “Here’s the bottom line: we’re going to be short 2,300 spaces.”

“It’s just going to be madness,” says New. “It’s going to be Capitol Hill.”

And Cherry Creek’s parking problems are not independent of traffic problems. Traffic flow will coagulate with all of the new development, putting more pressure on traffic routes at 2nd and 3rd and York and University. Making existing parking lanes into turn lanes is one solution, but then the shortage gets even worse.

Cherry Creek’s location off the light-rail map doesn’t help, New says. “Planning keeps saying transit’s going to take care of this. What transit?”

“Planning says we’ll solve it when it becomes a problem,” he adds. “That’s not planning.”
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