Sundance traffic in Park City ‘wiped out’ Old Town, resident tells elected officials
The traffic during the Sundance Film Festival in January crammed into Old Town, like it does every year, but the backups in 2019 seemed to draw even more consternation than those in many previous festivals.
The roads were overwhelmed, some say, as the crowds of movie lovers, celebrity gawkers and revelers mixed with skiers, commuters and regular Parkites running errands. Old Town was especially busy with backups, particularly on the opening weekend.
Mayor Andy Beerman and the Park City Council at a recent meeting discussed traffic as part of an annual review of the operations of Sundance. The elected officials did not make major decisions about traffic, but the meeting was the first of what is expected to be several as plans are crafted for the 2020 festival. The event next year is scheduled from Jan. 23 until Feb. 2, but any consequential changes to the operations would be expected to be negotiated months prior to the opening.
Much of Park City’s road network becomes stressed during Sundance, with congestion commonplace on the entryways and on roads close to the festival venues. But Old Town, with two-lane streets that narrow quickly during snowstorms and limited parking for the festival crowds, is especially problematic.
One of the neighborhood streets — Hillside Avenue — has drawn attention based on its strategic location linking upper Main Street with Marsac Avenue. Many see it as an easier entry and exit from the Main Street core than Park Avenue or Swede Alley. It is a tiny street with several residences, but people who live on the street continue to express frustration with the amount of commercial traffic like taxis, shuttles and ridesharing firms on the road.
Peter Marth, a Hillside Avenue resident, addressed the elected officials at the recent meeting, the latest in a series of appearances in front of Beerman and the City Council regarding traffic concerns.
“This year there was increased impacts on the residential neighborhoods,” Marth said, claiming the Old Town traffic plans for Sundance were “mismanaged.”
He said there were “constant lines of cars” in Old Town. The traffic on Hillside Avenue, Marth said, could make it more difficult for emergency responders to reach a scene.
“We got wiped out,” Marth said about Hillside Avenue, describing the Old Town residential area as an “outlet valve” for traffic.
Some of the comments at the recent meeting centered on the taxis, shuttles and ridesharing firms that operated in Old Town. Their numbers increase sharply during Sundance as large fleets of taxis and shuttles arrive with the hopes of strong business. The number of drivers for ridesharing firms operating in Park City also climbs during the event. Marth noted the presence of the ridesharing firms during his comments to the mayor and City Council.
“Lyft and Uber would come into our neighborhoods and hang out,” he said.
Another speaker who addressed the elected officials, Sam Rubin of Four Seasons Concierge, claimed Lyft brought numerous drivers to Park City during Sundance. He said the number of drivers in Park City was “counterproductive” to City Hall’s overarching community goals. He also said he wants local firms tapped.
But a Lyft representative at the meeting countered there were not drivers from outside of Utah and said the firm supports people who live locally. Jeremy Neigher, the Lyft market manager for Utah, told the mayor and City Council the firm reviewed concerns like Hillside Avenue with the drivers, saying Lyft wants drivers to respect a community.
Lyft was an official Sundance sponsor in 2019. The firm does not hold a multiyear sponsorship agreement with Sundance and the sponsor lineup for 2020 has not been finalized, according to Sundance organizers.
Steve Joyce, a member of the City Council, acknowledged there are few instruments for City Hall to further control ridesharing firms. There was also discussion about the possibility of the municipal government instituting a plan for Sundance that would be similar in some fashion to the restrictions on Old Town traffic that was crafted for the 2002 Winter Olympics. Under that program, an access-pass system was implemented in Old Town and on streets surrounding the competition venues at Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley Resort. The system was designed to ensure those areas of Park City were not overrun with spectator traffic.
The elected officials at the recent meting were not prepared to discuss the topics in detail, but additional talks are expected in coming months. It was not clear, though, what sort of changes in traffic management could be adopted by the 2020 event.
The traffic during Sundance — widely seen as the top marketplace of independent films in the U.S. — has long been problematic for rank-and-file Parkites as they encounter backups on the commute, on their way to the mountain resorts and as they move about for everyday errands. City Hall in conjunction with Sundance has taken important traffic-fighting steps over the years, such as bolstering the bus system and increasing parking rates to nudge the crowds toward transit, but the complaints have continued nonetheless.
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Arlene Loble served as the Park City manager in the 1980s, a pivotal period that prepared the community for the boom years that would follow in the 1990s. Loble, who recently died, is credited with introducing a level of professionalism to the municipal government that was needed amid the growth challenges.