Thursday, October 30, 2014

Transportation Planning

I went to the County Transportation open house the other day and pleasantly discovered that it was standing room only.  Traffic and water seem to be the major issues for the future of Park City and Summit County.   In a sense they are the same problem since traffic flows like water with pressures and friction, laminar and turbulent flow, supply and demand. Water, however, flows towards money and we have plenty of that.  Unfortunately you can’t buy your way out of a traffic jam. 

With exponential population growth predicted for the state and the county, it is good to see that the county has several creative ideas for the inevitable future traffic jam, rather than trying to pave our way out of it.   Much of these ideas involved fewer cars in Old Town and more bus, train and gondola usage by visitors, locals and day skiers alike.   Some of them even involved ameliorating general Old Town congestion and air pollution as well.  When Vail builds their model, walkable villages in the parking lots at PCMR and Canyons and charges 30 dollars a day for parking there, we will all be scrambling for the bus or the satellite and intercept parking lots.  Economics is the noxious planning stick here and the carrot incentive.  Look to Colorado if you want to see the future of Park City, with tons of busses, satellite lots, paid parking and endless roundabouts

The first step, however, is to take advantage of the existing infrastructure we have now.  Highway 224 is the critical collector artery for this area and should be fully actualized and computerized to coordinate and maximize traffic flow, in real time, for cars, busses, bikes and pedestrians.  Either UDOT is ignoring us or they are totally incompetent or malicious.  They have not put the money, time or effort into maximizing this highway despite the economic activity that depends on it and the taxes paid by its users. 

Consider a hypothetical example; The north bound left turn lane actuator from 224 to Payday Drive, has been broken for most of this year.  This is usually because of water infiltration into the actuator in the pavement and/or freeze thaw damage.  The broken presence detector therefore defaults to switching on the left turn light every cycle when no one is there and everyone heading south to Park City has to wait, for nothing. If an average of 5 people, paid 50 dollars an hour (these are plumbers and real estate agents damn it), and they wait unnecessarily for half a minute per 2 minute cycle, it amounts to over sixty dollars an hour, 1500 dollars per day and over half a million dollars per year of lost productivity and wasted time.  Now multiply that by the 10 lights between and I-80 and Deer Valley and you have some serious waste and incentive to invest to make this system the best it can possibly be. 

This is not rocket science.  I worked on a computerized traffic system for roads like this in New York in the mid 70’s with rooms full of large computers that have since been replaced with a chip the size of your phone.   California currently does the best job at signal timing and real time actualization in the world, because they have to.  Their methods and technology should be adopted here to maximize our infrastructure before we start building bus lanes, parking lots, trams and trains to solve this problem.  Let’s go for the low hanging fruit first. 


Finally, the most important component of a traffic system is the nut behind the wheel.   Let’s start proactively modifying our behavior as well, to cut waste and costs and to maintain our quality of life.  Let’s get on the busses, let’s put our kids on their busses.  Let’s carpool and consolidate trips, let’s walk and ride our bikes when we can.  Let’s reduce access to Old Town, and limit the events there.  Let’s give financial incentives to car pools and ride the busses to the resort and events.

Let’s all be our own traffic reduction and calming example with minimal, kinder, gentler usage and be an alternative model to our car crazy culture.  If we cannot solve this problem here, in our progressive microcosm with unlimited funding, what are the chances for Salt Lake, California and the entire country?  The future you save may be your own.