Sundance traffic presents unique challenge
January 17, 2007
Laynee Jones will be having a good day during the Sundance Film Festival if traffic is flowing smoothly — no honking and no obscene language, or gestures, from drivers.
Jones, who directs the festival’s operations for the Sundance Institute, holds one of the tougher jobs during film-festival week, ensuring everyone is happy as they navigate through the mega-crowds that descend on Park City.
"That is one of our biggest goals here, operationally," she says about reducing the traffic that clogs Park City, with narrow streets and just two ways in and out. "We want to keep the city manageable for the locals."
Jones is a key part of a team of Sundance and City Hall staffers that has designed a wide-ranging plan for festival week meant to discourage people from driving and push them onto sidewalks and pathways instead.
The festival’s organizers in 2007, for instance, devised a new map of the bus routes that features estimated travel times between Sundance venues for people on the buses and those who would rather walk. The walking times, the organizers hope, will be agreeable to some of the festival-goers and, in some cases, Sundance says it is quicker to walk.
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Walking from the Egyptian Theatre on Main Street to the screening room at the Park City Library and Education Center would take 18 minutes, or eight minutes shorter than taking a bus, Sundance estimates. Other routes Sundance says are shorter for walkers include the Eccles Center to the Racquet Club and Holiday Village to the library.
"Sometimes it’s faster to walk from venue to venue, theater to theater," Jones says, noting that changes are good for the environment because they are meant to slash the number of cars in the city.
The Sundance buses and City Hall’s regular fleet, though, are expected to be packed anyway. The Park City buses travel throughout the city, including stops close to the Sundance theaters, and run a route to Kimball Junction, where Sundance in 2007 has scheduled public screenings at Redstone 8 Cinemas for the first time.
Another bus route travels to Sundance locations in the city, known as the theater loop.
The organizers and the government, as they have since Sundance exploded as the nation’s premier marketplace for independent films, are trying to reduce traffic by expanding the bus routes and other means, like pricier downtown parking.
Traffic during Sundance is notoriously bad, some of the worst of the year, by many accounts. Drivers regularly line up on Main Street, slowly traveling the length of the street and taking in the hoopla, and on Kearns Boulevard, the drivers create traffic jams trying to get to the Eccles Center, Sundance’s largest screening spot and the site of lots of the biggest premiers.
The Main Street traffic prompted City Hall to hike parking rates in downtown, not so much to make more money but instead to reduce the number of drivers circling Main Street and Swede Alley looking for parking spots.
In 2007, the city is charging a $20 daily rate for parking in Swede Alley and the China Bridge garage expansion, which is making its Sundance debut in 2007. Before, the Swede Alley lots were free to park in. The original China Bridge garage is reserved for people paying premium prices for a guaranteed spot.
On Main Street, parking is priced at $1 for the first hour, $5 for the second and $10 for the third, the same as in 2006. Usually, parking on Main Street costs $1 per hour.
"Less hunting for spots. We think it will have a pretty big effect," says Brian Anderson, who manages City Hall’s parking system, about the increased fees. "It’s fairly typical of special events. This really is a major special event."
Meanwhile, no parking will be allowed on the west side of Main Street from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m. from Jan. 19-28, allowing people to use it as a 15-minute drop-off spot and a loading zone.
Max Paap, the City Hall staffer who coordinates the plans with Sundance, says the restrictions on the west side of the street will prevent people from double parking, which he says creates a "standstill" on the street.
He says emergency crews need traffic flowing, another reason for the parking restrictions. Paap recalls a fire truck during Sundance once stuck in Main Street traffic as it tried to respond to a call.
"He was stopped. He had nowhere to go, gridlock traffic," Paap says.