Amy Roberts: Big thinking still requires a reality check
I appreciate big thinking. I like learning from people who don’t just think “outside of the box,” but instead think like there is no box. It’s inspiring and illuminating and it demonstrates the relationship between imagination and progress. I generally enjoy hearing about concepts and possibilities my mind isn’t able to conceive, even if they seem a bit “out there.” After all, ideas are the natural-born enemy of the way things are. And the way things are often need to evolve.
But a few days ago when I saw the rendering for a possible gondola transportation system, inspiration and excitement were not the feelings that registered in my gut. Instead, it was more like exasperation and absurdity.
The drawing is simply a possibility, little more than an option accompanied by some colorful artwork. But the visual released by the city was either premature or entirely out of touch. The conceptual drawing may connect a few prime destinations, but it fails to address some pretty significant requirements — common sense and reality for starters.
The rendering shows the aerial transit system essentially running from what will allegedly one day be an arts and culture district to Deer Valley’s Snow Park Lodge. There’s also an option to hitch a ride to the base of Park City Mountain or unload near Main Street. The system would cover roughly 3 miles and cost upwards of $60 million to install. At $20 million a mile, you’d think someone would consider where all these hopeful aerial transit riders are going to park.
I’m all for finding creative ways to reduce the traffic. I’ve taken to grocery shopping after 9 p.m. simply because it’s the only time I can make a left turn onto Kearns Boulevard without losing an hour of my life. Something does need to change. Between ski, commuter and school traffic, not to mention monthly construction projects that seem to last a minimum of three years, Kearns Boulevard is often more backed up than a cheesemaker’s digestive tract. But to truly reduce the congestion, any proposed solution must address the number of vehicles on both Kearns and S.R. 224.
No one is going to inch along in traffic to park at the high school, to then schlep their ski equipment and small children a few hundred yards to catch a gondola, and hopefully reach their ski resort of choice by lunchtime. If the goal is to reduce the number of cars on the road, providing a reliable, rapid and cost-effective transit solution from Kimball Junction and Quinn’s Junction into town are essential.
Further, the environmental impact of such a project can’t be overlooked, particularly in a town that prioritizes sustainability. Operating a gondola requires about 2 million kilowatt hours of electricity a year, and in Utah, electricity is mostly generated by coal-fired power plants. Going solar isn’t feasible unless there’s a nearby place to put several thousand solar panels. I guess we could turn Kearns and 224 into solar fields, but we’d still have to figure out a way to empty them of cars first.
Then of course there’s the not-so-small challenge of property rights. The current concept shows the gondola cruising along within 100 feet of more than 330 private properties. Convincing a few hundred property owners to sacrifice their views, safety and tranquility in favor of the greater good is unlikely at best. Especially when it has yet to be determined that this project has any qualities that can actually be applied to the greater good. But I bet these home and business owners could be convinced to support the idea if Park City annexed a few lots in Hideout and forced Nate Brockbank to pay for the entire aerial system. An idea about as realistic as the current gondola concept.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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“Our community is fluid,” columnist Teri Orr writes. “Yet our actions are increasing rigid … and honestly — tired and stuck and unimaginative and nowhere near … .”