Taming Tahoe’s Traffic: The Impact of New Parking Programs

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By Sara Van Siclen

When I think back to the winter of 2023, I remember the massive snow and traffic. Weekend traffic would often back up into Truckee and at the lake from Highways 267 and 89, landing me in gridlock while trying to run simple errands. As someone who works on transportation solutions in the region, I attended meeting after meeting where concerned citizens called for someone to do something about the traffic.

In 2024, something was done; more importantly, we saw improvements. Palisades Tahoe and Northstar instituted parking reservation programs this past winter, which helped reduce traffic by ensuring that the people driving on the highways at peak times knew they had parking spots at the resorts. It reduced the urgency of guests to get to the resort since they knew they had parking, spreading out arrival times and traffic flow on the highways throughout the morning. These measures lessened traffic — Northstar reported a 47% reduction in five or more minute traffic delays and an 81% reduction in 30 or more minute traffic delays on Highway 267.

It also changed the behavior of the people who didn’t have parking reservations. Instead of driving their cars, many people living or staying in Olympic Valley took advantage of Mountaineer, the free on-demand service in Olympic Valley and Alpine Meadows, which saw a 40% increase in weekend ridership this past winter. People in Truckee or Tahoe City could take the free TART Park & Ride, allowing people to park at the Tahoe City Transit Center or Truckee High School and enjoy free shuttle services to Palisades. Those going to Northstar could use free parking at the Lift Workspace offices in Truckee and take TART’s free bus service to the ski area. Overall, the TART Park & Ride program experienced a 176% increase in passengers over the previous year.

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In 2023, I would have found it hard to believe that the traffic problem could be greatly improved in one winter season as a result of Palisade’s and Northstar’s parking reservation programs. While there will always be traffic when there’s snow on the road at 8 a.m. on a Saturday, this program made noticeable improvements over the previous winter. We have not solved traffic, rather eliminated gridlock through managing parking capacity. While there is still more work to be done and improvements to be made, it has been inspiring to see the ripple effects caused by a change in parking management in reducing traffic, reducing the number of cars on the road, and making a dent in the greenhouse gas emissions on Highways 267 and 89 during the peak season. I am excited to see how we can apply what we learned from these programs to tackle the congestion we face during other peak visitation times.

This work has already begun. During the summer, Kings Beach can experience gridlock caused by a large influx of cars and inefficient use of parking spots. This causes parking to spill over into neighborhood streets and local businesses to lose revenue since their patrons don’t have places to park. Placer County is developing a North Lake Tahoe Parking Management Program, which aims to ensure parking turnover at Kings Beach restaurants and shops by implementing parking management improvements with consistent oversight to ensure compliance with the posted regulations. This program looks to encourage people to consider alternative transportation, such as riding the free TART bus. Numerous community meetings and workshops have been held to help inform the parking management program, and Placer County staff are scheduled to bring an update to the board of supervisors this month. This is a small but important step toward mitigating summer congestion.

I am excited to see what parking management can do to alleviate summer traffic congestion, and I encourage you to learn about and support this project as it moves forward. You can learn more about the latest in this program at placer.ca.gov/tahoeparking.

~ Sara Van Siclen is the executive director of the Truckee/North Tahoe Transportation Management Association, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering public-private partnerships and resources for advocacy and promoting innovative solutions to the unique transportation challenges of the North Lake Tahoe-Truckee Resort Triangle. She lives in Truckee with her husband, eight-month-old son, and dog, Jax.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I’m an optimistic person but I have become very cynical about north Lake Tahoe’s traffic problems. With tourism marketing, resort expansion, massive development and limited roads, any traffic relief will soon be temporary. The county and developers are planning several large developments while also planning to limit parking and even reduce parking. Our only relief so far is from the stumbling and bumbling from the private developers. Public transportation is great but buses get stuck in the traffic too. Then there is the transition from a two season transient resort economy to a year round population like any other town. With low growth now out of fashion, the limiting factors are our two lane roads and lack of worker housing. How long before we hear calls for four lane road conversions and new arterials on the hillsides to accommodate all this growth?

  2. The only thing that will make a serious dent in the Truckee Tahoe area will be mass transit on a 15 minute or (preferably) less schedule. I have used busses at Whistler and in Chamonix and even when I’ve had a car I take the bus. The less time people have to wait for the bus the more they will use it, especially if the additional service is funded by 7 days per week paid parking for private cars.