The east/west split was back in the news this week when the topic of special events hit the docket at the council of governments meeting. It was the almost liturgical discussion that events originating in Park City create traffic mayhem on the East Side without any obvious economic benefit there. Like almost every other issue afflicting Summit County, I have one foot firmly planted in both camps. My house is 15 miles from a quart of milk. Needless to say, I'm on the road a lot, and there is only one road available. So having it blocked or traffic snarled every Saturday all summer wears thin by this time of year.
I'm also in the farming and ranching business, and regularly have cattle and slow, oversized farm machinery moving up and down the highway. There's nothing that messes up traffic more completely than herding a bunch of cattle down the road. The cows are oblivious to traffic rules, block both lanes, refuse to be hurried, and provide a free bovine undercoating to every car (and bike) on the road. The total contribution of my ranch to the local economy isn't much. If I went out of business and never bought another roll of barbed wire, the merchants in Kamas probably wouldn't notice.
I also love to ride my bike, and was part of the traffic cluster in the NAC ride. I got to experience it first in the car, driving through the 7:00 a.m. starters to get there in time for my 9:00 a.m. start. Then I did the 52-mile ride with 500 of my closest friends, and it surely messed up normal traffic flow.
So people on both sides of the issue push. It's impossible to put on a quality (dare I say "world class") 100-mile bike event running laps in Park Meadows. It's pretty unlikely that people participating in Ragnar will stop at the Kamas hardware store and buy a new chain saw as they race by (although no bike ride is complete without a chocolate chip cookie from the deli in Kamas). But you never know. There are three trees in my yard that are there because I saw the "sale" sign in front of a local nursery while riding my bike, and went back later with the truck.
There are a couple of pretty obvious solutions. Last summer, Kamas valley residents endured a long and not exactly precision-managed construction project while UDOT re-paved Highway 32. After all the inconvenience, all they did was re-pave the existing road without adding a shoulder or a much-needed center turn lane. The incremental cost of adding 6 feet of pavement width to the road couldn't have been much. I suspect UDOT spends that much on doughnuts every year. But it didn't happen, and riding a bike on Highway 32 is frightening. It was a lost opportunity. The County could pave Democrat Alley and provide an alternate route. But the County was slashing budgets and paving a road that sees very little traffic isn't a high priority when cash is tight.
There's a big difference in the nature of the events, too. Tour of Utah blitzed through in a tight pack. The road was completely closed for about a half hour, and then they were gone without a trace. The events open to people like me tend to drag on because the riders range from elite to entry-level. The riders are stretched out for miles, and it goes on for hours. It felt like Ragnar went on for a month. Overall, the special events seem pretty well-managed. The Sheriff's office has it figured out.
There is room for a legitimate discussion about the size, frequency, and nature of the special events. They are not going to go away, and rednecks deliberately blasting cyclists with soot from their diesel pickups aren't adding anything useful to the conversation. Neither are cyclists who ride two and three abreast and ignore the traffic around them.
But every time I hear some official on the East Side complain that they aren't benefitting from the events, I have to bite my tongue. The East Side towns of Kamas, Oakley, Francis and the unincorporated areas have grown a lot in the last 20 years. That growth isn't because of a sudden surge in hiring at the Kamas Foodtown. Most of those new houses are occupied by people who make their living from the economic vitality of the Park City area, whether they are selling bikes at Jan's, digging foundations in Deer Crest, or doing the books for some HOA in Snyderville.
Remove the economic activity of the West Side from the equation, and the towns on the East Side certainly wouldn't look like they do now. The Ragnarians aren't shopping at the Kamas Foodtown, but there probably wouldn't be a Kamas Foodtown without the jobs in Park City. We're all in this together.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.