If you’ve ventured up either of the Cottonwood Canyons on a powder day or weekend, you’ve no doubt experienced the gridlock which has inspired the-not-so flattering Wasangeles epithet. However, I have a plan for eliminating said gridlock traffic. Even better yet, it requires little, if any, additional infrastructure, would improve air quality & safety for all, and even perhaps raise revenue to fund much needed transportation reform here in Utah.
In my very unscientific method of counting the number of passengers in oncoming cars I pass driving up and down the canyons, it’s safe to estimate that nearly two-thirds or more of the traffic consists of single-occupant vehicles. When you consider that nearly all cars on the road average no less than a four occupant capacity, it means that the canyon roads are currently operating around a 25% efficiency rate.
The solution to our traffic predicament seems painfully obvious: reduce, or better yet, eliminate single-occupant vehicles driving up and down the canyon. I mean, we’re all more or less trying to get to the same place. Easier said than done though, right? No, it’s actually pretty easy, and here’s how you do it:
1) Impose a toll on all single-occupant vehicles at the mouth of the canyon from 8AM – 12PM. I suggest $10, but $20 would be even better.
2) Take revenue from said toll and invest in additional buses and routes. Why there currently is no option to go direct from Kimball Junction (Park City) to both Big & Little Cottonwood Canyon throughout the winter is absurd. Even if it only ran Fri-Sun it would be an asset to both the Park City & Salt Lake communities. There are also plenty of under-utilized parking areas throughout the Salt Lake Valley that could act as park & rides for additional, dedicated ski buses – especially on weekends.
Studies have shown that reducing traffic by as little as 10% has a huge impact on congestion, and with the above policy in place, 10% is a totally achievable number and would buy the state some time to get their act together regarding additional public transit options. Additionally, if there’s anything that government policy has taught us, it’s that tolls and taxes affect behavior – whether it’s cigarettes, seatbelt fines, or drunk driving penalties, society at large has benefited from increased regulation on these issues.
However, if you’re going to regulate, you must also provide an equal or better alternative to what’s currently available. The reason there are so many single-occupant vehicles, is that aside from car-pooling, it’s the only option people have for getting up and down the canyons. Yes, there is a current ski bus, but it’s already at max-capacity, and as such, is a miserable experience for anybody who tries to use it. Additional buses and routes would go a long way in alleviating rider frustrations as well as improving accessibility for all.
Regardless, one thing is clear: The investment Utah has made in marketing and tourism has worked. It’s worked so well in fact, that we’ve now reached the tipping point where if no action is taken and current behavior isn’t adjusted, it will be the beginning of the end for accessible skiing in the Salt Lake Valley. We’ve all made fun of our neighbors to the east for their ridiculous 3 hour ski commute, however, that’s exactly where we’re headed. Only the difference is that we’ll be spending 3 hours to go 30 miles.