Handwriting is on the wall: Summit County will need more public transit
Local commuters don’t need to look very far down the road to see what’s coming. Even this month, once considered the heart of the fall off-season, traffic has been heavy on State Roads 224 and 248. Rush-hour congestion at Kimball Junction and along Kearns Boulevard already mirrors the urban pace many of us hoped to leave behind when we moved to Summit County.
With that in mind, Park City Transit is inviting the public to participate in a series of informal meetings to get their windshield assessment of the region’s transportation needs for the next five to 10 years. The meetings kick off this Tuesday with a session at the Basin Recreation office at Trailside Park at 6 p.m., followed by meetings on Wednesday and Thursday, also at 6 p.m. at the Park City Library and Basin Fieldhouse, respectively.
Park City Transit routes extend beyond the boundaries of Park City, into the west side of the county. Buses regularly transport riders between Old Town and Kimball Junction, but so far they do not roll over to the East Side. That could change, depending on input received at the upcoming meetings and from surveys of citizens in Kamas and other East Side communities.
Public transit in resort towns like Park City may have started out as a tourist amenity, a nice perk for getting around in unfamiliar surroundings in snowy weather. But the systems have since evolved into an essential service for employees in those parking-strapped communities.
As the business centers, neighborhoods — and popularity — of those towns have grown, so have their traffic challenges. And, it could be credibly argued, Park City is the poster child of a small ski town grappling with a big box-office draw.
The problem could have a simple solution: build bigger roads and parking lots. But Summit County residents are anxious to guard their rural mountain character and are savvy enough to understand the impacts of increased emissions on their air quality.
So, what local officials hope to glean from local residents is how best to balance the need for convenient, efficient transportation with reducing traffic. What transportation amenities appeal to them? What sacrifices are they willing to make? If routes are extended to Kamas and Coalville, will anyone ride them? What incentives would induce residents and/or visitors to abandon their cars in favor of mass transit? And are disincentives, like paid parking at the resorts, considered too draconian?
This winter is likely to be a litmus test for Park City’s existing transportation system. If current predictions of a heavy snow year and Vail’s enthusiastic outlook for a record number of guests at its newly combined resorts in Park City converge as expected, massive traffic snarls like the one reported last December, will become more common.
Park City and Summit County officials are wise to start waving the caution flag, and residents should take advantage of this coming week’s opportunity to weigh in on the effort to map out a comprehensive regional traffic plan.