Newkirk: Put people over cars in Breckenridge parking debate (column)
April 26, 2018
Breckenridge will be defined for decades to come by how we solve our current parking and transit issues. I think we should bring people, not cars, into Breckenridge. I've written about this before and since the parking structure seems to be on hold, I'd like to explain how I see a gondola transit system working and the social and economic benefits.
Transport guests and locals alike via a gondola or cable car between Airport Road parking and F-Lot with a stop at the Transit Center. Maybe even extend it to CMC. Then focus bus routes to connect Wellington Neighborhood and French Creek locals to the Transit Center gondola stop and to connect Blue River and South Park commuters from the Ice Rink parking to the F-Lot gondola stop.
Add a bus route to connect Peak 7 locals to the top of BreckConnect or the Airport Road gondola stop. Add two more to connect Boreas Pass and Warrior's Mark locals to the Ice Rink lot. Forget town boundaries; this is about making Breckenridge function better and appreciating those who make it work.
Most employees could get within two to three blocks of their work. Skiers could get to either Peak 9 from the F-Lot gondola stop or Peak 8 via the BreckConnect. Summer guests would land on a green welcome mat. Everybody could get virtually everywhere without worrying about parking.
A transit system like this would define Breckenridge much differently than a parking structure. Guests would be captivated by its adventure and efficiency. It might take some time and grinding of gears among locals to accept — just like paid parking. But unlike paid parking, it's to bring them in, not push them out of town.
Denver, which is also experiencing a building boom, did something very similar. The new RTD Civic Center Station opened in December to better connect mass transit to the Civic Center Plaza, Denver's traditional center of events, and the 16th Street Mall, its downtown retail center. If you think of the 16th Street Free MallRide as Denver's gondola, the similarity to Breckenridge is very real, if on a slightly bigger scale.
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The best part of this scenario is that F-Lot could be turned into a park designed around the gondola: a statement of our values, a place where guest and local alike could enjoy the river and mountains that make Breckenridge special. A previous generation turned the Blue from a trash ditch into a river and built a wonderfully successful town-centered event venue. We can and should add to that legacy.
And since a park really doesn't care where you work, how much money you have, the color of your skin, who's your mate, where you're from, who you pray to or whether you can stomach our president or not, it could be a place to bring locals together both literally and figuratively to help make us a stronger and better community.
A toddler sled hill, pick-up basketball and volleyball games, an ice skating rink, a play park, strolling lovers, an ice castle, bocce courts, snowmen and snow forts, watching fireworks, a farmers market, horseshoe pits, throwing a Frisbee, hot chocolate and ice cream stands, lawn concerts, a fitting atmosphere for the 10th Mountain Division memorial or just watching the world go by from a bench. The choices are limited only by our imagination.
Many years ago, long before the Rec Center, Upper Blue Elementary, business centers, a new sanitation plant, a new CMC campus or employee housing, Airport Road was a dredge rock leveled runway for local pilots brave enough to land and take off small planes at altitude. That's how it got its name.
Some power developer types wanted to convert it into a regional airport. Even in the '80s, development was a given, but there were very strong emotions about the shape that development should take. The airport was eventually turned down for safety and noise reasons. At a time when three-seat chairs were cutting edge technology, I doubt anyone realized how lucky we were to keep that runway as a safety valve for Breckenridge growth and provide the answer for future parking and transit issues.
But that's where we are. Do we embrace a forward thinking, flexible transit system anchored by a park and make a real commitment to being green and pedestrian friendly? Or do we build a garage that few locals will use and that by definition will lead to more traffic and pollution?
I know. The concept is a bit overwhelming and the decision to do it will take copious amounts of intestinal fortitude. It may be a dream. It would be much easier to celebrate a new parking structure and let the next generation deal with the parking problem it really doesn't solve and the social divide it exacerbates. A structure on the Gondola lots is much better than one on F-Lot. But neither is the best answer.
Dave Newkirk lives in Breckenridge.