Summit County is weighing solutions for what it says is an inaccessible transit system
At its busiest, around the Sundance Film Festival and in peak ski season, the Park City Transit system swells to include 330 bus stops.
Some, like the one outside the Park City Library, have sidewalks leading up to it, a shelter with a place to sit and a sign advertising which lines are leaving next and when they’re expected.
Others, like the one near the intersection of Meadows Drive and S.R. 224 near the McPolin Farm are little more than a pole in a bucket on the side of the road, with no cleared path leading up to it and a bus that stops on the shoulder.
In a visioning session last month and a council meeting last week, Summit County officials discussed the importance of having a transit system that’s accessible to everyone year-round.
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But increasing access to the system is more complicated than just snow removal, Summit County Manager Tom Fisher said.
There are questions about which entity would be responsible for maintaining access at certain stops, ranging from homeowners associations to a municipality to potentially a transit district at some point in the future; a lack of existing infrastructure like sidewalks; conflict between snow storage and pathways; and in some places no clear rule about removing snow.
Fisher said the issue will likely have significant budget impacts going forward, and that he has directed staff to study the issue.
Access is one part of a larger conversation to overhaul the region’s transit system, which councilors have said is at an inflection point.
Park City leaders have said the system is operating at capacity and have indicated they would rather the city play a partnership role rather than leading the system as it expands, as the city has done since the system’s inception. Summit County has in recent years increased its monetary contributions to the system significantly, and has added transportation staff.
County officials have appeared eager to take more of a leadership role as service expands into Kamas and Summit Park, with $480,000 for a Kamas park-and-ride lot already budgeted and a massive bus rapid transit project on S.R. 224 in the planning stages.
Increasing access is potentially a costly prospect, as it would require additional staff time, but Fisher said it’s a worthy goal.
“We have a great system that works that way in the spring, summer, fall. We’ve got several months of winter when it’s not easy to ride the system. And if you’re in a wheelchair, you can’t ride the system very well,” Fisher said last month. In a council meeting last week, he said that county staff is evaluating the cost of making the transit system completely accessible year-round.
“I know it’s going to be significant, but it’s the right way to go,” he said.
Summit County councilors have increasingly discussed in public meetings the importance of accessibility after seeing a screening of the documentary “Crip Camp” at the Sundance Film Festival. The film chronicles a camp for teenagers with disabilities in the 1960s and 1970s.
Councilor Roger Armstrong, in particular, mentioned how the issue hit home with him after the screening when he climbed a steep set of stairs in a Main Street building to reach a temporary lounge. Mingling with other festival-goers over a cup of coffee would have been impossible for a person in a wheelchair, he recalled.
He said that the county should endeavor to increase access to all of the services it offers, and “transit is a good place to start.”
The stops that are in the county are now being maintained by the equivalent of 1 1/2 full-time public works employees, Summit County’s transportation manager Caroline Rodriguez told the council last month. She called that level of service “not reasonable.”
But it’s an open question about who would pay for improvements to increase access. Officials have discussed pursuing regional solutions, like a transit district that could include the booming growth in Wasatch County.
Such a district might be the entity to handle issues like access in the future.
Rodriguez said increasing access is a huge job about much more than just clearing snow. It’s something that many transit systems are grappling with worldwide. She said the first step is taking inventory of existing infrastructure, and that city and county staff have already prepared a draft of that document.
“Accessibility is extremely important for a transit system, a healthy community, and general quality of life,” she wrote in an email. “It doesn’t refer specifically to persons with disabilities; it should be thought of in a broader context: ACCESS to jobs, ACCESS to services, ACCESS to meaningfully participate in your community.”
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“We’re kind of turning the corner … and it’s now time to maybe put out the welcome mat in a careful and thoughtful manner,” said Bill Malone, president and CEO of the Park City Chamber/Bureau.”