Sundance traffic overwhelms Main Street in ‘a self-perpetuating loop of doom’ |

Sundance traffic overwhelms Main Street in ‘a self-perpetuating loop of doom’

Lines of cars crawled through festival’s opening weekend, prompting City Hall action

A line of cars descends Main Street on Saturday afternoon in an especially bad backup even by Sundance Film Festival standards. City Hall took action over the weekend in an effort to better manage the traffic. | Jay Hamburger/Park Record

Eli Weingarten, driving a sport utility vehicle for a limousine service, is working in the transportation industry for approximately the eighth time during the Sundance Film Festival, normally a lucrative time for taxis, shuttles and other options that can take festival-goers from screenings to parties, to Main Street, and back to their lodging.

Last weekend, as Sundance returned to an in-person event for the first time in three years, Weingarten was among those who were stuck in what appeared to be especially bad traffic jams in the Main Street core even by festival standards. Lines of cars were repeatedly seen on Main Street, Swede Alley and nearby streets, and the backups left drivers inching forward with the hubbub of the festival surrounding them.

City Hall this year introduced a package of alterations to the traffic flow in Old Town in an effort to reduce the impacts of the festival crowds on Old Town and better manage the crush of vehicles. There were widespread complaints, though, about the alterations and concern they may have contributed to the backups.

Weingarten described one drive over the weekend taking 39 minutes to move the roughly two blocks from the High West Saloon on Park Avenue to the bottom of Main Street. There was bumper-to-bumper traffic on Main Street, Swede Alley and Deer Valley Drive in the area of Main Street, he said.

“I would describe Main Street as a self-perpetuating loop of doom,” he said about the traffic conditions at the busiest times.

The alterations to the traffic flow that were in place at the outset of Sundance included one-way restrictions on Park Avenue north of the Heber Avenue intersection, Hillside Avenue, Main Street and Swede Alley. Main Street became a one-way northbound, or downhill, route while Swede Alley was turned into a one-way southbound, or uphill, road.

The Main Street and Swede Alley restrictions effectively made the two adjacent streets a loop for drivers. Lines of vehicles were seen slowly climbing Swede Alley and then descending Main Street.

“It added a level of stress I hadn’t experienced in a while,” Weingarten said.

The Park City Police Department fielded numerous complaints over the weekend about traffic issues in the area of Main Street. Some of the cases clearly were centered on restrictions put in place for Sundance while others were general in nature as people encountered the mass of vehicles.

The Police Department on Sunday issued an update to the traffic-control efforts, outlining the original blueprints and highlighting changes that were made to counter the problems over the weekend.

One of the changes prohibited the public from using Hillside Avenue, a tiny street that connects Marsac Avenue and the upper reaches of Main Street. Residents and emergency vehicles continue to be allowed on the road. Another used one-lane and two-lane traffic patterns on Main Street and Swede Alley. The municipal government also borrowed buses to reinforce the transit system and immediately ticketed and towed vehicles left in places where parking is restricted.

The update said the one-way restrictions on Main Street and Swede Alley will remain in place for an unspecified period. Hillside Avenue will remain closed to the general public, the update said.

“We understand operational predictability is essential for residents, businesses, and visitors. We also must make operational changes in real time to improve public safety,” the update, signed by Police Chief Wade Carpenter, said.

A visible alteration to the pre-festival plan unfolded at the intersection of Main Street and Heber Avenue, where turns were to be prohibited. There were times when drivers instead were allowed to make turns.

“The plan was not originally supposed to allow for turns, but at times decisions to temporarily alter plans have to be made due to a myriad of circumstances: stalled vehicles, medical emergencies, significant traffic congestion affecting the aforementioned, and life safety issues. Additional signage, manpower, and further traffic clarity have been introduced on Main Street as part of mitigating unforeseen impacts,” the Police Department said in a prepared response to a Park Record inquiry.

The Police Department said the allowance of turns was brief, describing “a few instances when the location became bottlenecked and officers used the opportunity to quickly ‘flush’ traffic, in order to get Main Street moving appropriately. The alterations had the desired effect and regular Sundance traffic was able to resume on Main Street.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Park City and Summit County make the Park Record's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.