Friday, May 25, 2007

Earplugs: the solution to Ketchum?s parking problem?

Parking in Ketchum may be the subject of more carping and complaining heard by the City Council than any other.

The council is again making noises about taking action to turn over spaces more quickly for customers in the busiest area around Giacobbi Square.

Two-hour parking limits in the area have done little to free up parking during peak times. Pleas to business owners and employees to park in peripheral areas—all within a 10 minute walk—haven't either.

It's common wisdom that large numbers of spaces are occupied by employees who play cat and mouse all day to avoid parking tickets. So, the council is mulling a one-hour limit.

A one-hour limit will put the local common wisdom to the test. If parking is not eased, the city will have to look elsewhere for an answer.

The cheapest by far is for the council to buy sets of earplugs to block out the complaining. Every study on Ketchum parking—and there are several—has concluded that the city has plenty. However, it's spread out around town. Time pressures and sheer laziness inspire drivers in need of a parking space to behave like ravenous rats on the trail of cheese.

A one-hour limit is worth a try, although it will not be problem-free. While it will make parking harder for employees, it will also make it harder on customers who want a leisurely lunch-and-shopping experience.

The other conventional answer is paid parking. But parking systems or parking structures are expensive to build, install, maintain and operate, although the best ones pay for themselves. And, so as not to put an unfair burden for paying the costs of parking on commuters already struggling with the cost of living in the Wood River Valley, paid parking would have to be combined with a really good valley-wide bus system—another expensive proposition.

So, here's a thought. The city could try a permit system for employees in which it pays them to park where they should—the carrot instead of the stick. It's a wild idea, but in the long run, the city might save money by not having to cough up big bucks for parking structures.

Otherwise, the city may soon be faced with the unpalatable alternative of imposing paid parking. This might end the carping and complaining, but not before it crescendos.

When Aspen, Colo., imposed paid parking, Roaring Fork Valley residents organized a honk-in at City Hall.

There's only one thing for certain: No alternative will make everyone happy.

Earplugs, anyone?

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