Palisades’ Parking Reservations Has Room for Improvement

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Editor’s note: This My Shot is part of a FaceOff. Read Mike Martin’s argument, A Year in Review of the Palisades Tahoe Reservation Parking Program.

By Stephan Haase

Palisades Tahoe’s parking reservation program has good intentions — to lessen congestion on Highways 89 and 28 as well as on Olympic Valley and Alpine Meadows roads, and improve ingress and egress, particularly for emergency services. However, the first reservation season offers glimpses of successes, improvements needed, and utter failures.

The concept of restricting the number of vehicles to meet available parking is a good idea. Traffic congestion was less impactful than previous winters at the beginning of the season because of limited snowfall and excellent driving conditions that persisted into February. Olympic Valley residents that I spoke with were pleased with traffic control efforts to reduce congestion in the area. Registering vehicles through the parking platform, HONK, seemed simple enough, but its functionality ended there.

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To secure a weekend or holiday parking spot, skiers had to reserve a free parking spot when spaces were released on Tuesdays at either 12 or 7 pm, or they could pay $30 for advanced paid parking. When free reservations were “sold out,” paid reservations frequently remained available including day-of use. I would set calendar alarms, log on, and wait for noon to arrive to begin the reservation process. However, what I often experienced was HONK crashing or being slow to respond, causing me to miss out on the free reservations, which were often sold out within one to two minutes. When driving to Palisades in the morning, congestion could be seen on traffic maps from Dollar Hill to Truckee. Often, drivers gave up and turned around, heading in the opposite direction.

But there were also some winners this season. Olympic Valley residents reported significantly less ski traffic on adjacent streets. However, traffic control gains were quickly diminished once vehicles entered the parking lots and created backups by not parking quickly. This led to traffic on I-80 and SR-28 backing up to the North Shore. Expanded traffic control efforts in Olympic Valley and on 89 between Truckee and Tahoe City would be welcomed.

The biggest disappointment was HONK, which was frequently overheard as an abject failure, a platform that never anticipated peak volume, wasn’t scalable, robust, or reliable. The program was unenforceable without voluntary cooperation, lacked automation at all points of ingress, was not integrated with state vehicle registration records, which could lead to cheating, and was staffed inconsistently and insufficiently. I was able to avoid enforcement staff simply by making note of areas where license plates were already checked for reservations, then parking in that area.

Additionally, Palisades’ parking program limited accessibility to leased public lands, and reduced spontaneity on weekends, since you couldn’t suddenly decide to ski before 1 p.m. that day without having a reservation or working within the multiple, non-integrated public transit platforms. Those using public transportation were rewarded with long waits, shuttle route abandonment (Sherwood), poor schedules, no integration of similar services, and the ultimate inconvenience of being delivered to the east end of the Village rather than the loop adjacent to the Tram building. For families with young children, this is incredibly inconvenient.

Perhaps the most relevant contrast to Palisades’ claims of success with the program are communications received from Palisades in an email to me on Feb. 15: “We acknowledge that the reduction in traffic congestion has not met expectations.”

The community supports necessary change and recognizes what has been achieved and what tactics need vast improvement. More specifically, we recognize “facts” provided singularly by Palisades Tahoe offered weak evidence that the program worked without data to back up the claims and third-party review. Without verified data, statical citations are nothing greater than testimony.

If the many parking program successes are as legitimate as Palisades would have us believe, let’s abandon the new revenue generation stream (cough, parking reservations) and focus 100% on no-cost parking reservations the week of availability. Fully integrate the multiple shuttles and ride-share programs, and mandate and incentivize tourist accommodations to use micro-transit, shuttles, or car pooling. Finally, plan for the future with off-site parking near interstate roadways with either gondola delivery or mass transit to realize immediate traffic reduction benefits.

Then, and only then, will the community embrace Palisades’s sincerity to lessen ski traffic congestion.

~ Stephan Haase has been a resident of Truckee/Tahoe since 1988. He is a retired firefighter/paramedic, small business owner, and local government manager. Haase has enjoyed several years as a professional ski patroller and competitive paraglider around the globe. Currently, Haase enjoys parenting, ocean sailing, and lapping the ski grounds between school bells.

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