Incentivizing carpooling may decongest canyon paths

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]During the wintertime, if you take a weekend drive up Parley’s, Emigration, Big Cottonwood, Little Cottonwood or American Fork canyon, you are bound to run into traffic. Congestion is the name of the game as the Salt Lake weekend warrior class takes to the hills in an effort to recreate above the smog. Cruising for parking at any of the seven closest ski resorts makes it apparent that single-passenger vehicle traffic is not an uncommon contributing factor. As air quality and recreational access in the Wasatch become continually more pressing issues, it’s time Utah reconsiders canyon access to eliminate some of the vehicle traffic in the canyons.

Mountain Accord, a planning body composed of public and private interests, is already reviewing proposals from “system groups” with primary concerns of recreation, economy, environment and transportation. The executive board has taken community feedback into consideration along with these proposals and is currently attempting to hash out a blueprint proposal. Traffic reduction in the canyons should be an integral part of this final blueprint.

ONE Wasatch, a community-opposed interconnect proposal to connect various ski areas with new chairlifts, has been oftentimes sold as a way to help move skier traffic through the canyons. Given the locations of the proposed lifts and strong opposition from the local skiing community, it’s apparent that this proposal is more about creating marketing copy for a private tourism business than effectively moving skier traffic. Rail/gondola systems might be efficient long-term people-moving investments if placed to move skiers up and down the canyons (as opposed to just between resorts).

It seems that it would make the most sense to try and find cheap, extant methods to reduce vehicle traffic while keeping the canyons accessible to as many as possible. Financially incentivizing carpooling by tolling single-occupant vehicles (with exceptions for business and DOT-related traffic), in conjunction with an effort to re-vamp canyon mouth carpool lots and UTA routes, would accomplish this goal. At the moment, ski bus routes could stand to be much more efficient and regular to increase ridership. UTA should also re-vamp its weekend schedules — “No Sunday Service” shouldn’t be the norm for FrontRunner and bus service if public transit is expected to move people up and down the canyons.

Opening Guardsman’s Pass year-round should be taken into consideration as an alternative way to take some traffic pressure off established access routes, especially in the light of long-term assessments from within the ski industry that predict a decreasing snowpack in years to come. The route will become easier to maintain and would keep Parkites from driving down Parley’s and up the Cottonwood Canyons, an important goal as Park City continues to expand.

Effectively decreasing single-occupant vehicle traffic in the canyons will help alleviate some air pollution and make the canyons safer for transit. Done properly, resorts shouldn’t see a decrease in skier visits, as public transit options have yet to be effectively utilized. Until then, Salt Lake City residents should do what they can to carpool on their own, recognizing that it will benefit the environment they love to recreate in.

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