Tahoe transportation pilots show promise for reducing congestion

Published on July 25, 2019

Road that parallels lake tahoe with cars on it

New transportation pilot projects in North Lake Tahoe are showing promise for reducing congestion and improving circulation, county staff reported at this week’s Board of Supervisors meeting. 

In cooperation with local transportation and business community partners, Placer has recently supported a series of public transit pilot projects and alternative transportation options aimed at reducing congestion and getting people out of their cars by encouraging alternative modes of transportation, such as local transit and biking. 

To help reduce peak ski weekend traffic congestion into Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows resorts, the county is exploring converting the road shoulders on state Route 89 into a third lane only accessible by public transit vehicles, encouraging the use of those services. The project consists of two 2-mile bus-on-shoulder zones in the highest congestion areas -  specifically, northbound beginning north of Cabin Creek Road to the West River Street intersection, and southbound beginning south of the Pole Creek Trailhead to the Squaw Valley Road intersection. The schedule is dependent on Caltrans and California Highway Patrol approval but is tentatively planned for winter 2019. If successful, the program could lead to an extension to the full section of Highway 89 between Olympic Valley and Truckee, and possible application on state Route 267 between Northstar and Truckee. 

Placer also supported a pilot park-and-ride program during peak visitation times connecting designated parking areas with popular destinations in the North Lake Tahoe area. Started in 2018 as a public-private partnership between the county, the Truckee North Tahoe Transportation Management Association and Northstar and Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows resorts, the program served over 2,500 passengers through last winter, an average of 115 passengers a day. Park-and-ride shuttles carried over 700 riders from Northstar and over 1,000 from the Tahoe Biltmore and Tahoe Transit Center to fireworks displays in Kings Beach and Tahoe City during Fourth of July celebrations this summer. 

To help encourage biking as an alternative to vehicle trips, Placer is partnering with the Truckee Tahoe Airport District to expand the Zagster bike-share service in Truckee to North Lake Tahoe. An initial installation is planned to offer 15 bikes for rent in five locations in Kings Beach and Tahoe City. The launch is dependent on contract negotiations, but is hoped for August and is expected to be tested for three “warm weather” seasons.

Mountaineer, a new micro-transit, on-demand shuttle service for residents and guests in Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, has been wildly popular, the operator reports. In its first ski season last winter, the service saw 81,367 passengers, 9,000 downloads of the service’s mobile app and is estimated to have removed at least 20,000 vehicle trips from local access roads. The service was funded by a 1% tax assessment on lodging and vacation rentals within Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows as well as lift tickets through the formation of Placer’s first tourism business improvement district, approved by the Board of Supervisors last year. 

In order to address congestion concerns in Tahoe City and Kings Beach, the county will conduct a town center crossing guard pilot program during several days of high traffic. The study involves stationing crossing guards at several road crossing and analyzing potential reduction in the flow of pedestrians crossing the intersection and stopping traffic. The program began in June and will conclude in late September. The study will also analyze traffic delays during peak periods without pedestrian crossing management. Monitoring results will inform future programs and infrastructure to improve traffic flow and reduce delays on roadways during summer months. 

In a related item, the board unanimously approved the Transportation Demand Management Strategies for North Lake Tahoe report - a series of strategies aimed at further reducing congestion and improving circulation.  

Developed with input from a series of community feedback opportunities, Placer County recently completed the TDM report that compiles transportation management-related strategies to be further explored and implemented in the North Lake Tahoe area of Placer County.

“This study validates what we’ve all been working on for 40 years,” said District 5 Supervisor Cindy Gustafson. “When you look at the investment that we’ve made in Tahoe City, Kings Beach and throughout the entire region including roundabouts and sidewalks and enhancing the regional trail network, it is clear that we've made tremendous progress, but it still remains as one of the top local issues. We need regional solutions and I look to our partners and the business community to help the county address the region’s transportation issues.”