You have heard it before. The kind of story that starts with, “There I was, thought I was gonna die!” Well, last week, that is exactly what crossed my mind.
It was a busy weekend in Tahoe, with the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday in full force, and I decided to skip the ski resort crowds and head to Truckee. As I left my home, I was not surprised to see the traffic on Highway 89 was bumper to bumper all the way from Interstate 80 to the ski resort stop light. Cars just creeping along, all patiently waiting to turn into the valley.
Except for one guy.
Suddenly, without even a signal, this large SUV pulls out of the line, across the double yellow line, and begins accelerating toward me and the car in front of mine! I remember thinking, “What the heck?”
Headlights looming, a head on crash was imminent! The two cars weaved in a surreal game of “chicken,” all happening in a moment of uncertainty, when abruptly the oncoming SUV swerved his car into the bike lane. His vehicle launched up onto the four-foot-high snow berm, into the air, and rolled, landing on its roof just behind my car.
After calling emergency services and checking on the other drivers, I was left in a state of shock and disbelief. What was that man thinking? Where did he really think he could go with traffic so backed up? What was so damn important that he would risk his life, and mine, and all the other drivers, and pull such an aggressive move?
Have Covid restrictions and lockdowns made people more impatient when they do get out and about? Are people feeling more anxiety and aggression these days?
Or is there something intrinsically wrong with Truckee/Tahoe’s lack of adequate infrastructure that increases impatience, leading to rash decisions in drivers? We’ve all experienced two-lane roads that are backed up for hours as people wait to reach their destinations. Then, when they finally do turn into the parking areas, they find no place to park and the lots are full by 9:30 a.m. Imagine their frustration.
Yet with the example of the vehicle incident I witnessed and so many others, our community can be encouraged to look for solutions. Our beautiful Tahoe region offers folks from all walks of life the opportunity to get outdoors, recreate, and release some of the stress of Covid and all it has brought upon us. We want to welcome all folks, visitors and locals alike, to appreciate and enjoy the natural beauty of Tahoe.
Our communities need and want tourists and visitors. Our economy is driven by their hotel and recreation visits. However, the road traffic on weekends and holidays is not sustainable, and it creates pollution for hundreds of cars to sit and idle for hours.
Solutions exist: Look no further than ideas that other places like Salt Lake City, Utah, and Whistler, British Columbia have already embraced. These also previously had two lane roads that accessed the ski resorts. They built large parking facilities where people could easily catch a bus that regularly heads to each of their ski resorts. Incentives for riding the bus system include discounts for bus riders at ski resorts and ticket deals with bus rides included. Ski buses pick up at many of the hotels as well. This allows many fewer people to drive their own cars in these two ski areas.
Ski resorts could immediately begin prioritizing parking concerns. Building multi-level parking garages at each ski area for a pay-to-park program would cover the cost of construction over time. This would get cars quickly off the roads, generate income for the space, and give visitors easier access to the lifts and shopping.
For all of you visiting Tahoe, when you pack up your car for recreating here, remember to pack food and water … But also remember to pack your patience.
Let’s calm down and enjoy the journey as well as the destination.
~ Norma Jean Bowers is a massage therapist who has lived in North Lake Tahoe since 1993. She is an avid skier, road and mountain biker, and (more recently) open water swimmer. Most days you can find her outside enjoying the best that Tahoe has to offer.