PS_053122 Manitou Parking CSBJ photo by Bryan Oller 1 copy 2.jpg

Manitou Springs has launched several new projects to alleviate traffic congestion in the downtown core, including progressive parking rates and rear diagonal parking spaces.

On a busy summer weekend, traffic in Manitou Springs can back up to the Highway 24 interchange as motorists try to find places to park.

Since 2013, when the city hired consultant and parking enforcement firm SP+, Manitou has tried to alleviate congestion in the downtown business district with paid parking on Manitou and Ruxton avenues. But the problem persists: Too many people, not enough parking, and drivers who cycle through town in search of elusive parking spots or just leave when they can’t find one.

Now, after nearly two years of running its parking program in house and studying the science of how parking affects drivers’ behavior, the city is trying out some new ideas: a progressive fee system where rates go up the longer a vehicle is parked; and restriping a portion of Manitou Avenue to increase the number of available spaces.

The new pricing structure is designed to increase turnover in the downtown core and encourage people to park farther from downtown, said Deputy City Administrator Roy Chaney, who oversees the parking program.

In the core area, motorists pay $2 an hour for the first three hours, $5 an hour for the next two hours and $10 an hour thereafter.

The goal, Chaney said, is to have about 10 percent of the city’s parking spaces available at all times. 

Data on the program, which started May 15, is scant so far, but Chaney said he has heard reports that “they’re seeing a few more open spaces, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.”

Downtown Colorado Springs also instituted a progressive parking rate structure to encourage turnover — but at much lower rates. Motorists in Colorado Springs pay $1.50 per hour for the first two hours, $2 for the third hour and $2.50 per hour for the fourth and subsequent hours.

So a driver who parks for eight hours in Downtown Colorado Springs would pay $17.50, while a motorist in downtown Manitou Springs would be charged $46 to park for eight hours.

Besides the rate changes, the city reconfigured parking on the north side of Manitou Avenue along Memorial Park from parallel to rear diagonal spaces. Motorists back into the spaces when they arrive and pull forward into traffic when they leave.

Although the method is unfamiliar to some, “people normally are getting it,” Chaney said. “This is Manitou — we’ll try anything new.”

Chaney said businesses in the area “have commented to me that they think the rear diagonal parking by their businesses has been great and is working well for them.”

But some businesses are not so fond of the progressive parking rates.

“I feel it will definitely have a negative impact on businesses,” said Kat Kilner, manager and part owner of The Hemp Store and Escape Manitou Springs. 

“I don’t think the solution is trying to get people to stay here for a short amount of time. That’s what they’re

encouraging by having these rates.”

PROGRESSIVE RATES

Chaney said Manitou has several systems in place to gather data on how well progressive parking rates are achieving the 10 percent vacancy goal. The city employs the Smarking data platform for on-street parking and Parking Logix for information on occupancy in the city’s five parking lots, two of which are owned and operated by the Manitou Springs Metropolitan Parking District.

The Smarking software uses an algorithm that predicts the percentage of occupancy based on data from the parking kiosks where people pay for on-street parking.

Parking Logix is a sensor program that records how many people are entering and exiting the lots, Chaney said. “That also gives us data that ties into our wayfinding signs and gives anyone that comes into town the data on lots and occupancies.”

Information about spaces available in the lots (their rates vary but also are progressive) is available for visitors to view on the city’s website, manitousprings.gov.

The city had a parking app at one point but had a lot of problems with it, Chaney said.

“My understanding in the tech world is that web-based programs are moving a lot better,” he said. “People don’t want to download apps anymore. So far, we’re getting a lot of positive comments, and it’s so much easier than doing the app.”

Smarking is working to make similar data available for on-street parking, he said. 

“That’s tougher, because you have to have sensors for every space,” he said, “but we can have real-time occupancy for on-street parking as we move forward.”

Chaney expects that capability to be available in a few months. For now, the city is using data from the Cañon Avenue lot, which usually coincides with on-street parking, to estimate on-street occupancy.

The city will review the data quarterly and could adjust rates depending on the numbers. The rates automatically drop from Oct. 1-April 30.

Chaney said he views building a parking structure — a solution that has been proposed by the Metro Parking District and as an alternative for the Hiawatha Gardens lot — as a last resort.

“Building a parking garage is a very costly thing,” he said. “That’s why we’re doing all these other improvements.”

Reconfiguration of the 600 block of Manitou Avenue to provide rear diagonal parking added 24 parking spots, he said. 

“If we wanted to expand that on Manitou Avenue going east, there could be 50-70 more spaces,” Chaney said.

A parking garage is a permanent structure, but Manitou’s parking needs could change in the future, he said. 

“Micromobility keeps moving forward,” he said. “Maybe we don’t need as many parking spaces, because people will be riding their bikes in here or flying in with whatever they have in the future.”

Chaney said that at first there were minimal problems with people crossing lanes and pulling into the rear diagonal parking spaces the wrong way.

The city added lane delineators to keep that from happening, he said, and also posted signs on the street and put up information on Facebook to educate people about rear diagonal parking.

He expects that some of the delineators will be removed once people get used to the process.

Many motorists are finding that it’s easier than parallel parking, he said.

Manitou’s parking department is an enterprise, which means that revenue from paid parking is funneled back into parking improvements. 

“We are able to have a strong force that fits our city’s size,” he said. “We call them ambassadors, because the key for us is not just enforcing and ticketing but to help, guide and get people to where they need to go so they can enjoy this town.”

The parking department will employ eight or nine people this summer, including an attendant at the Hiawatha Gardens lot east of downtown, where the city is piloting a reserved parking system for eight spots.

The city also is offering residents a pass for 50 free hours of parking per year.

“We’re really trying to look at the whole picture and not to forget any key stakeholders,” Chaney said.

MIXED REACTIONS

Businesses’ reactions to the new parking rates have been mixed, said Leslie Lewis, director of the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce.

“They feel like it’s forcing people to leave earlier,” Lewis said. “They’re not crazy about the jump for the fourth hour — they think it’s a little bit too high. We talked in a board meeting about giving it some time to see how that translates to sales.”

Businesses are finding it easier to explain the new rates than the old ones, which varied from block to block, Lewis said.

“I think everybody’s excited about the prospect of giving 50 free hours to residents, encouraging more residents to come downtown,” she said.

Businesses also like a new Business Pass Card program, which offers a reduced rate of $1.50 an hour for 10-50 hours of parking.

“It’s a cool deal for local people who like to come to Manitou regularly,” Lewis said. “The business owners all have cards to give to their regular customers.”

The city also is looking at a permit for employees to park at a reduced rate in the 400 or 500 block of Manitou Avenue east of downtown and at providing employee parking spaces at the Hiawatha Gardens lot.

“Businesses can buy those permits and move them between employees,” Lewis said, “so someone could use it who works Monday through Thursday, then somebody else could use it Friday through Sunday.”

Lewis noted that people can still park for free downtown for 30 minutes but said some business owners feel there’s not enough information about the rates for people who are unfamiliar with Manitou.

“The signage on the kiosks don’t tell you what the rate is,” she said. “You’ve got to scan a QR code to figure out what the rates are. I think signage and education are going to be two critical pieces.”

Reporter

Jeanne Davant is a graduate of the University of North Carolina. She worked for daily newspapers in D.C., North Carolina and Colorado, and has taught journalism and creative writing. She joined the Business Journal in 2017.