Downtown parking

The Town Council is still struggling to decide whether to move forward with paid parking or try smaller adjustments first.

Months after receiving recommendations from parking consultants in April, elected officials are still wrangling over whether paid parking is essential to curbing congestion on Jackson’s streets or if low-key policy changes could have the same effect.

The plan from consultant Kimley-Horn outlines a tiered timeline under which the town would gradually ramp up its parking strategy over a few years. The first steps, proposed for the next two years, would be fairly innocuous attempts to shift employees out of prime parking spots downtown.

For example, the town could extend parking enforcement to 7 p.m., convert the Home Ranch lot to three-hour parking, and encourage employees to leave their cars in the parking garage.

“The idea is to use these short-term parking actions,” Principal Planner Paul Anthony said, “see how well we’ve been able to reduce congestion or not over a two-year period, and then make a decision at that point to move to more aggressive parking measures if we need to.”

Mayor Pete Muldoon, however, is dead set on moving straight to paid parking. He has long argued that fees are the only surefire way to bring Jackson’s parking occupancy below the goal of 85 percent.

“All of the data and all of the studies and everything that we know about parking shows that that approach works,” Muldoon said. “The only reason we’re not doing it is that we’re scared.”

His colleagues have mostly come around to seeing paid parking as a valuable strategy, or at least accepting it as a necessary evil. But many people, especially downtown business owners, are still wary. For that reason, Councilor Jim Stanford argued that even if meters are the only solution, the community should be eased into its new reality.

“We can build trust and make it a little less scary if we try the incremental options,” he said. “And if it then fails, we’re all on the same page.”

Wes Gardner, owner of Teton Toys, was even more optimistic. He believes smaller steps may still improve the situation.

“When we recognize that employees are a major part of this problem,” he said, “then we admit that these minor changes, if they affect employee behavior, could have major impacts on the problem.”

But Muldoon noted that parking studies in Jackson dating back to the early 2000s have recommended paid parking. He argues that it’s long overdue, and that anything but that is only prolonging the inevitable and unnecessarily upholding an inefficient parking system.

“I feel like councils have been saying this for 16 years now,” Muldoon said. “Until we get the ball rolling, we’re never going to get anywhere.”

Contact Cody Cottier at 732-5911 or town@jhnewsandguide.com.

Cody Cottier covers town and state government. He grew up with a view of the Olympic Mountains, and after graduating Washington State University he traded it for a view of the Tetons. Odds are the mountains are where you’ll find him when not on deadline.

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