Manitou Springs will introduce improvements soon that city officials hope will keep streets from being clogged by drivers circling the small Ute Pass community in search of parking spots.
Part of what officials hope to roll out on June 8 will be monitors stationed at each of the city's parking lots on weekends to check if space is available. That would then be posted on electronic signs as drivers approach downtown Manitou Springs.
The city has also slashed rates for the Barr Trail lot to $5 per vehicle per day for all users and plans to install signs to guide tourists to its lots.
Officials say reducing congestion during peak season is especially needed with the Park Avenue bridge, spanning Fountain Creek near Soda Springs Park, expected to remain closed until midsummer for repairs.
According to a plan that the Manitou Springs Transportation and Parking Board presented to the City Council this month, one or two traffic management coordinators will be assigned to each of the city's five lots - including the free lot at Hiawatha Gardens and the Barr Trail lot at the base of the Manitou Incline. They will monitor how many of the roughly 400 spaces are available from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Friday through Sunday.
"We're hoping to direct traffic as opposed to just let them wander around aimlessly and hope they find a parking space," said Manitou Springs Mayor Ken Jaray.
Coordinators will communicate with a supervisor, who will direct the programming of the two electronic signs, which will likely be placed near the eastern and western boundaries of the city, said parking board Chairman Bill Koerner.
City officials are working to determine where else visitors can park when the city lots are full so that the coordinators can relay those options. Its parking management services contractor, SP+, has identified several locations that might offer overflow capacity, said Koerner, a former mayor of Manitou Springs.
In the next month, the city also plans to launch a smartphone-friendly website that will map the city's parking lots, Koerner said.
The parking improvements, part of a pilot program, are expected to cost the city about $63,000 this year and will be financed with parking fees.
"It is a test period over this summer, and it's probably going to evolve as we get a little bit smarter about how we do this," Koerner said.
The city's Metropolitan Parking District is moving forward with a plan to build a three-story parking garage in downtown Manitou Springs, although construction wouldn't begin until the fall at the earliest, Koerner said.
The district, formed by a group of downtown businesses in 1989 to levy taxes to pay for the development of the Wichita Lot, hopes to turn the staffed, paid lot in the 700 block of Manitou Avenue into a garage with roughly 200 spaces.
The district will need to conduct a traffic study, hold public hearings and complete the city's permitting process, including council approval, Koerner said.
The district still has several issues to resolve, including problems related to traffic on Manitou Avenue.
The city opted to get rid of the reservation system and seasonal rates for the Barr Trail lot amid concerns that the lot was losing potential customers to two nearby businesses that offer parking for $5 - the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, which will not operate this year and faces an uncertain future, and the Iron Springs Chateau.
The online reservation system has been shut down, and a new kiosk at the city's Barr Trail lot has been installed, Koerner said.
Previously, Barr Trail campers and hikers paid $5 per vehicle per day, and others who parked in the lot were subject to seasonal rates - $10 a day from Nov. 1 to April 20 and $5 per hour or $30 per day from May 1 to Oct. 31.
In the past few years, officials have implemented the reservation system, tried out a reimbursement system for Barr Camp hikers and repeatedly changed the lot's rates in attempt to find the right balance that would earn money for the city and discourage drivers from adding to traffic on Ruxton Avenue while trying to find a spot.
The council approved the last pricing adjustment in February amid concerns of falling lot revenues, which in the past have contributed to organizations that perform maintenance on the trail.
At the time, the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, which does some trail work, was set to receive about $16,000 from the city in 2018 - less than half the $35,000 to $40,000 it has been allocated annually in recent years, said the organization's executive director, Jennifer Peterson.
Koerner said he hopes the latest reduction in the Barr Trail lot rates will encourage more people to use the lot and restore lagging revenues so that the city will be able to pay its share of maintenance costs.
Adding to the challenges of the typical bustling Manitou Springs summer is the Park Avenue bridge, which the city originally planned to reopen following months of construction in February. But the bridge closed just a day after reopening because drivers had difficulty getting their vehicles over a high ledge on the arch.
Officials then tried to engineer a temporary fix that would allow the bridge to reopen by Memorial Day, but the city has had trouble negotiating a solution.
Mayor Jaray said the city chose a different contractor to oversee the engineering of the repairs after its initial contractor asked for more money to fix it.
The city has spent nearly $900,000 on the bridge from its general fund and reimbursements from the Colorado Department of Transportation and the State Historic Preservation Office, said interim city administrator Malcolm Fleming.
The city's new engineering contractor for the project has said the fix could cost the city up to $50,000 more. Construction on the bridge is slated to begin by July 2 and wrap up in late July, Fleming said.
"We're definitely disappointed," said Leslie Lewis, executive director of the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau. "That was a tremendous loss of parking, and parking is one of the city's biggest challenges."
City crews have striped extra parking spaces in the construction area to replace some that were lost when the bridge closed and have an agreement with the Timberline Baptist Church allowing the public to use its lot on Cañon Avenue, according to the city administrator.
"We are very sorry for the inconvenience to both the business community and our visitors and are working as quickly as we can to remedy the situation," Jaray said.
Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108