As congestion creeps in, leaders look for a way out
March 25, 2014
Electric buses, a monorail, trams, satellite parking, toll roads and alternate-day driving restrictions. All were tossed on the table Monday afternoon as Park City and Summit County council members met for a freewheeling brainstorming session about the future of transportation on the Wasatch Back.
The challenge, according to Summit County council member Roger Armstrong, is to take a long, 30-40 year view, without neglecting the short-term challenges.
"We are seeing more and more congestion. If we wait for the long term we may choke before we even get there," he said.
Park City and Summit County have already taken several steps to address some of those near-term issues by extending the city’s transit system into the Snyderville Basin and teaming with Utah Transit Authority to establish a SaltLake/Park City bus route. They are also reaching out to communities on the East Side of the county to potentially extend service to Coalville and Kamas.
But the city’s and the county’s long-range planning efforts are also receiving renewed attention thanks to the recent Mountain Accord initiative (mountainaccord.com) which brings together representatives from Salt Lake, Summit and Wasatch counties as well as state and federal agencies including the U.S. Forest Service and the Utah Department of Transportation, among others, to tackle both transportation and environmental quality issues.
In that spirit, a full complement of city and county elected officials, along with staffers and representatives from UTA, informally suggested a gamut of disincentives to discourage the proliferation of individual cars, and incentives to entice drivers to instead use mass transit.
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Some of the more draconian disincentives included:
Park City Mayor Jack Thomas, however, cautioned against diminishing the visitor experience with either unsightly or cumbersome transportation requirements.
"What they see is part of the experience, what does it look like and how does it feel," he asked, which encouraged others to suggest more attractive alternatives like a monorail or European-style trams. While admitting that above and underground systems could be exponentially more expensive, they encouraged staff not to rule them out in future discussions.
Parking was also addressed with Summit County Council member Claudia McMullin inquiring about the Richardson Flat satellite parking lot located on State Road 248 east of Park City. According to Park City Transit Manager Kent Cashel, the lot receives only "sporadic use" and could be a "valuable asset."
Summit County council member Dave Ure suggested it would be wise for the councils to look at buying land for future satellite parking on the East Side of the county before additional growth occurs. "It’s a lot less expensive to buy bare fields," he said.
UTA chimes in
The councils also heard positive reports from Mike Allegra, general manger of UTA and Grantley Martelly, UTA’s regional general manager of bus support, about growing ridership on the Park City to Salt Lake bus. Dubbed PC-SLC Connect, the route, which caters to commuters going both ways, has seen a 33 percent increase in ridership year over year since it was instituted in October of 2011.
The route is subsidized through a partnership with UTA, Park City and Summit County with support from the ski areas and other local employers. According to Martelly, while fares do not completely cover the cost yet, the gap is narrowing. He added UTA is actively seeking out commitments from additional employers in the area. Both Martelly and Allegra named University of Utah students and employees as potential new riders saying they have identified about 3,000 people with ties to the University who live or work in Summit County.
"If we could capture 10 percent of that number it would be significant," said Armstrong.
The challenge in making the Salt Lake/Park City route more attractive is finding a balance between speed and accessibility, Allegra said, adding that UTA has been tweaking the stops at each end to make the trips more efficient.
"At what point does it make sense to build something like light rail," Thomas asked.
Allegra responded, "We haven’t ruled out anything."
"Now is the time to think about 30-40 years forward. It’s a challenge and I am excited about the level of energy I’m seeing here," he added.