JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colorado — A Sunday morning in Colorado, especially one with an afternoon Broncos game, is an exceptionally busy time at open space parking lots across the state.
“Welcome to Colorado. We all want to be outdoors,” Jefferson County Park Ranger Mary Ann Bonnell said with a laugh.
She’s at the east Mt. Falcon trailhead just outside of Morrison where the parking lot is full and cars are lined up all the way down the road leading into the park.
“We know that parking is an issue, and we know that detracts from the visitor experience,” Bonnell said.
To combat the issue, Jeffco Open Space teamed up with a Colorado Springs-based tech company, Lot Spot to create an app that shows in real-time the parking volume at seven open space parking lots in Jefferson County. The east and west trail lots of Mt. Falcon and Mount Galbraith, the east lot of White Ranch, Lair of the Bear, and the east and west lots of Alderfer/Three Sisters are the parks the app is currently monitoring.
Here’s how it works: There’s a small camera pointed at a specific spot on the road leading up to the park. The system knows how many parking spots are available in each park, and counts the cars as they come in and out. That information is communicated in real-time through the app, and users get a live look into how many cars are in a lot at any given time.
“They’re not collecting personal information. They’re not invading privacy. They’re simply counting cars,” Bonnell said. “We don’t want people to be frustrated when they come, and we don’t want them to make unsafe parking decisions."
She hopes the app will encourage people to spread out the time they choose to visit parks. If a lot is full up at 10 a.m., they can keep an eye on Lot Spot to see when people start taking off.
The app also provides valuable information to Jeffco.
“We’re going to be collecting a tremendous amount of data which will help us design better parking lots in the future,” Bonnell said.
She said fixing a lack of parking isn’t as simple as throwing up more lots which have a continual impact on their environments.
“If we understand our visitation, particularly at certain parks, we can make that decision. 'Do we want to invest in more parking infrastructure, or can we just better communicate with our visitors and get that visitation spread out,'” Bonnell said.
Jeffco might expand the program to other parks if this initial phase works well. The Lot Spot app is currently available to download for free for Android and iPhones.
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