Tom Clyde: It will work because it has to work

Tom Clyde

Park Record columnist Tom Clyde.
Tom Clyde mug

In a shocking move, the City staff has proposed putting the Richardson Flat park-and-ride lot into service. The lot has been there unused for at least 13 years.  The snow is plowed, the lights are on, and the pavement deteriorating—the beating heart of the tailings pond. It had everything a park-and-ride lot needs except for the ride. Somehow, we kept forgetting about the ride. There were excuses stacked up as high as the toxic dunes—there’s no traffic light to make a left turn from the dump road to SR 248, there’s no bus lane, so even if a bus could make the turn it would be stuck in the same traffic mess as everybody else. The scenery isn’t world class, it’s close enough to Hideout to get cooties. That’s been solved, except for the Hideout part.

Now, they have proposed to put it to the test this winter. There are 750 parking spaces out there, which is a whole lot. End to end, it’s a line of cars over 3 miles long. The plan is to run bus service every 15 minutes. To make the tundra a little more civilized, they are proposing food trucks and portable restrooms so there are at least minimal signs of civilization. The odds of being eaten by coyotes remain high, but it’s a start.

It’s not without problems. First off, it is really in a weird location if you are coming from anywhere other than Kamas. If you are coming from Kamas, there is a straight and relatively traffic-free shot from the new traffic light at Browns Canyon that puts you right there—dodging the mess at Quinns. Otherwise, traffic will either have to come through town and make a left on to Kearns upon learning that the PCMR lots are full (they already are), or come around on US 40 to further mess up the flow at the Quinns interchange. First timers will surely feel like they have been taken on some kind of snipe hunt. Nothing about it says, “Welcome to Park City, we appreciate your business.” It says, “You day skiers don’t spend a dime and we wish you’d stay home.”

There are details to work out, like who is picking up the $1.4 million tab for the bus service. That seems like an easy one—it’s not the taxpayers’ obligation to solve the ski areas’ parking problems. At least not localtaxpayers. Uncle Sam picks up a lot of it. Somehow transporting skiers around town is a federal issue. If PCMR charges $25 a day for parking, there is money available to fund frequent, quality service. Deer Valley is reportedly looking at it for employee parking, which would be a great starting point (unless you are an employee).

The proposal is for 15 minute service. That sounds kind of plausible, except that if there are 750 carloads of people arriving between 8:30 and 9:00, that’s maybe a couple of thousand bodies. They won’t all fit on one bus. It might take a couple of hours to move everybody. That won’t work, even though we are all getting accustomed to standing in long lines to ski. Of course not everybody arrives at once, but the bulk of them will be concentrated in a hour at the beginning and end of the day. If the lines and wait times are long, nobody will use it a second time. Park at the grocery store instead. The proposal said the buses would stop at Park City Heights, the High School and the Old Town Transit Center. Every stop lessens the chance of success. The shuttle needs to be just that, a shuttle—back and forth as fast as they can get there without stopping anywhere, running lights like locals, with dedicated buses going to Deer Valley and PCMR.

We can be bribed. In addition to avoiding the $25 parking charge, passing out free cookies would go a long way. It feels like abandoning your car in the middle of nowhere, because it is. There needs to be a sense that there is some security out there so when you finish skiing, your car and all its parts will be there and connected to each other. 

Will it work? It has to work because we have no other option. (Well, we could reduce the number of people on the hill, but that won’t happen.) There is no place else where it is politically possible to pave 10 acres. Adding a second layer to the existing parking lot might work, but the streets accessing PCMR are inadequate.  Increasing the traffic burden to access more on-site parking has its problems.

So, with all the drawbacks, we have to make it work. It has to be efficient, and better than just tolerable. There’s no such thing as “world class satellite parking,” but it doesn’t have to be a terrible experience. Guests making the decision to park out there need to feel like the gesture is appreciated. Dodging the $25 parking charge isn’t really enough. Apres ski concerts in the tailings pond? Coupons for free fries with a $30 lunch? And maybe the greatest reward of all, avoiding Kimball Junction on the way home.

But we only get one chance to get it right.


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