The transportation election
October 23, 2015
With the election drawing closer, people are beginning to talk about it a little more. The big development issues are behind us. The last three sizeable projects are the resort parking lots and Treasure, and the general approvals are done. The City can nibble around the edges, or try some grand density swap to relocate the density we don’t want at one location to another location where it is equally unwanted. It doesn’t matter — it’s all served by the same overwhelmed street system.
Yet the issue people seem most concerned about is still growth. That’s been the case for 40 years. How to manage growth. How to keep an active economy and competitive place in the ski industry without paving over the things that make this place so appealing. That’s been the fundamental issue of every election for decades. Nobody seems to have an answer.
Although it’s been true for a long time, the City Council finally seems to have figured out that it doesn’t have jurisdiction over the growth that is most threatening. It’s not in the City Limits. Summit County has approved an unimaginable amount of density at the base of the ski resort formerly known as Canyons. I think it is only 25 percent and 30 percent built. Silver Creek Village, tucked away behind the industrial park, is 1,290 units waiting to make a left turn somewhere. If you haven’t driven around Jordanelle recently, you should. At the rate they are building, you won’t be able to see the lake much longer.
Traffic is a major issue. The City was apparently surprised to learn that their traffic problems originate in Salt Lake, Heber and Kamas rather than Park Meadows or even Kimball Junction. The community relies on commuters for employees, and can’t function without them. All those people have to live somewhere, and they aren’t finding housing here on retail or service industry salaries. Even among upper-income workers, a lot of people commute for a lot of reasons. Two income families may have somebody who works in Salt Lake and one who works in Park City. The decision on where to live might be based on something as basic as which partner in the relationship is willing to drive Parleys Canyon in the snow. But there is a car headed one direction or the other every day.
So the only way the City can address traffic is to work regionally. There are little things like better timing on traffic lights, or adjusting school schedules to spread the load. But the only way to make any difference on regional traffic congestion is either more roads or fewer cars. Geography makes more roads pretty challenging. There are all those mountains to get around. So that leaves the ‘fewer cars’ option. Fewer cars means persuading people to ride the bus. That isn’t a transportation decision, it’s a fundamental cultural change. Most of us will give up our cars only when they pull the steering wheel from our cold, dead hands.
Carpooling may have a better chance, where co-workers can combine for point-to-point transportation. It would probably be cheaper and more successful to buy gas for carpools than to expand bus service.
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Summit County started (rather timidly) polling to see if Kamas Valley residents would ride a bus to Park City. They posted a survey and asked three questions about work hours, general destinations, and finally, "Would you be willing to try public transit if it were free, convenient, and dependable?"
That’s like asking, "Would you be willing to eat Brussels sprouts if they tasted like chocolate and didn’t give you gas?"
I considered it. For just long enough to realize that it is impossible to imagine circumstances other than quadriplegia that would get me to ride the bus. ‘Convenient’ simply isn’t possible. The population in Kamas Valley is spread out. So people would have to drive to a park-and-ride lot. About the time their car gets warm, they then get to stand in the cold and wait for a bus. Once they got into Park City, unless they were lucky enough to have their destination on the main route, there are transfers. Riding the bus could easily triple the commute time even if everything ran like clockwork. Which it can’t. Commuting by bus from Kamas is only convenient if your other option is walking.
So the other side of the equation is this: "What can we do to make driving your car so expensive, miserable, and frustrating that the bus begins to look attractive? How expensive and scarce does parking need to get, and how confounding would the regulations need to be, to get you out of your car?" That’s a really odd question for a town that relies on the hospitality industry to ask.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.