Could the Tahoe/Truckee region thrive with an economy not so driven by tourism? What would alternatives be?
Absolutely. Just as the First Transcontinental Railroad made it possible for Tahoe/Truckee residents to distribute timber, ice, and locally brewed beer across the West, technology is making it possible to live in the mountains while creating value for the rest of the world. With tech sector innovations, the concepts of “made in Tahoe” can be applied to so much more than ever before. The pandemic is accelerating this trend. With so many people working from home, it’s not surprising many are choosing to live in the mountains.
With that said, visitors will always be an important part of our future. Much of the infrastructure and services we enjoy and depend on wouldn’t exist without our visitors. If there ever was a clear distinction between “visitor” and “local,” the lines are getting blurrier and won’t serve us moving forward. We stand to gain most from creating a kind and welcoming community to live in and visit.
We have the opportunity to galvanize all who love our region — visitors, lifelong locals, and new residents alike — to help build a compelling future together. To sustain our new hybrid economy and our community character we need to make big investments in housing, transportation, and nature.
Housing has been a challenge since well before the pandemic-fueled migration to the mountains. Many of the people who keep our schools, public services, and businesses running can’t afford to live here. The shortage of affordable housing stresses the fabric of our community and generates unnecessary traffic on our roadways.
Yet more full-time residents lived in our town centers in 1950 than today. Encouraging higher density infill housing closer to town will reduce sprawl and per capita costs of public services like sewers, roadways, and fire protection. Infill development will also make alternatives to the personal automobile more viable.
Traffic is frustrating in the city and even more discordant in the mountains. We can’t simply build our way out of this mess. In most cases, more roads, more lanes, and more parking will lead to more traffic. A bold commitment to developing transportation infrastructure not so dependent on the automobile is needed.
Public transportation needs to be more convenient and sexier. Just as software developers focus on improving every aspect of the user interface, we can invest in good design to improve every aspect of the transit rider experience. Eliminating TART fares was a great first step. Expanding routes and frequency is needed. How about neighborhood coffee transit stops? What would a compelling Truckee Trolley experience look and feel like? Is it time to create a modern version of the Snowball Express train which first brought skiers to Sugarbowl in 1940 with arguably less hassle than a visitor fighting traffic 80 years later on Interstate 80?
While we won’t be replacing all car trips with bike trips, connecting neighborhoods with paved multi-use trails is a high leverage investment. Imagine riding safely just about anywhere across our region whether you are 8 or 80. Electric bikes have made riding more accessible. Plowing trails makes nearly every day a good day for riding. Trails improve the experience of residents and visitors while providing better access to nature and open space.
As a community, we rally behind initiatives to protect open space and nature. We have much work to do. As one example, our Truckee River still bears the scars from a railroad era when industry used the river as a water and power source and convenient sewer. The Truckee River is the heart of our community, but the railroad and our development pattern has separated us from it.
We can create better access while restoring riverbanks and riparian vegetation. Pedestrian bridges over the river and over the tracks from Truckee’s downtown will improve access, parking, and traffic. Revitalizing industrial river properties with mixed use neighborhoods that intersperse housing with parks, trails, restaurants, commerce, and art will fortify our economy while improving the quality of experience for residents and visitors alike.
Pulling together as a community to make smart investments in housing, transportation, and nature will help make our region a great place to live and visit. It will be the foundation for a long-term sustainable, diverse, and entrepreneurial economy.
~ Jan Holan commutes by bike in all seasons, operates the Lift Workspace, and serves on the board of Truckee Rotary, Truckee Trails, and Our Truckee River Legacy Foundation. Along with his family, he looks forward to moving into Truckee’s first cohousing neighborhood, an infill redevelopment on West River Street.