by Rick Langenberg
In the wake of a new $4.5 million facelift of the main street in Cripple Creek, the days of no parking rules and no enforcement may be screeching to a halt.
Nope, local residents and visitors don’t have to worry about sophisticated meters or the disastrous parking crackdown that has invaded some communities in the region, such as Manitou Springs. However, gamblers and shop patrons may have to stretch their legs a little, or catch a trolley ride when frequenting certain casinos and businesses next summer, as Bennett Avenue won’t have the same capability for public parking with the new downtown enhancements. In fact, not nearly as many main street spots will be available for visitors.
“Our main goal is to make Bennett Avenue more pedestrian-friendly and safer,” said City Administrator Ray DuBois, in describing the new theme of the main street facelift, which was officially recognized during a ceremony on Nov. 19. That means Bennett Avenue will no longer be saturated with parked cars on the main drag. In addition, the town wants to keep signage to a minimum. Plus, residents and casino patrons can’t walk across Bennett Avenue as easier as the pre-main street facelift days.
According to DuBois, the council will adopt new parking regulations, but he cautioned that the process won’t occur overnight. The council held a recent workshop on the downtown parking situation, along with proposed signage ideas. DuBois described the input from local business operators as quite positive. “It went very well,” said the city administrator, who manned his first official meeting since assuming the position as the head city boss. But he indicated that the council still wants to get more feedback from residents and casino and business folks prior to making a final decision. Final parking regulations won’t occur for at least another month.
Parking has been a steady headache for city officials since the beginning of gaming, with a variety of approaches but no steady rules. The city has experimented with a spree of policies, from striping certain curb sections of the main road to stipulate the parking regulations and placing more signs in the downtown, to encouraging parking on the west and east ends of town and encouraging indoor casino and private lots. “It has been pretty much a free-for-all,” said Public Works Director Jim Blasing, in describing the current stance towards parking and the lack of an overall system. With the downtown construction project, most of Bennett Avenue was a no-no zone for parking vehicles last summer.
In the past, visitors didn’t have too many problems during the week, or they could use a casino lot or house their vehicle at the west and east ends of town, such as near the courthouse, or along adjacent streets. However, during special events and on weekends, parking often posed a challenge.
For the most part, the city is now proposing limited parking times along certain blocks, such as the 300 block where city hall is located. Also, the city would like to set up a policy that bars or discourages store and casino employees and Cripple Creek workers from parking on Bennett Avenue to open up more spots for customers. For other parts of the main street, such as the ultra-busy 200 block, casino operators have frowned on any public parking, except for buses. Concerns have been raised over the safety of bus passengers when exiting or entering these shuttle vehicles.
According to DuBois, the idea of limited parking times received a positive reaction from shop owners. He stressed that the city doesn’t want to fill up Bennett Avenue with vehicles, as this would detract from the downtown improvements and could present more safety hazards.
One of the key elements of the new downtown-look deals with much wider sidewalks and larger areas for people to congregate and hang out. With this approach, the driving lanes for motorists have gotten a little narrower, which may present a new challenge for some. “Much of the public parking on Bennett Avenue will be limited,” said DuBois, who expressed concerns about loading up the main street with parked vehicles.
But even with a desire to create a more pedestrian-friendly downtown that encourages visitors to walk easier from one place to another, the city doesn’t have any plans for developing any public lots. City officials are satisfied with the current allotment of private and public parking areas throughout town. But with parking, nothing has come easy for Cripple Creek.