A double-edged sword? 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CHAD CHOMLACK / TOURISM WHISTLER - Rainbow Lake glows on a beautiful, sunny day in fall.
  • Photo by Chad Chomlack / Tourism Whistler
  • Rainbow Lake glows on a beautiful, sunny day in fall.

It's hard not to feel blessed right now in Whistler.

Business is good — strong enough to make most of us forget the woes of last winter — and the faces of those living and visiting here sport nothing but smiles (well, most of the time).

June tourism numbers show that the month was up 26 per cent over the same time last year — likely a strong enough showing to keep annual visitation at 2.7 million people this year.

Two of the obvious boosters for our strong visitation are the weather and the falling loonie. But in Whistler's case there is little doubt that a packed schedule of events that has plenty of audience participation is playing a significant role as well.

There are sporting events, cultural events, concerts and more — all added to the plain magic of just being in a green setting.

The Village Stroll is packed, the grocery stores are stocking shelves 24/7 and the beaches are bursting.

It's busy, really busy.

Flip the coin over though and perhaps the resort needs more analysis of the impact of these good times.

For example, the bumper-to-bumper traffic on Highway 99 from before Function Junction all the way into town on these busy weekends.

Trying to access the highway going north from any of the neighbourhoods without a light becomes an exercise in frustration. A simple trip to Function from the north end of town now feels like a downtown city drive on the return journey.

Standing at a coffee bar Saturday night, as waves of Wanderlust's Michael Franti's music washed over the thousands of concertgoers, I overheard a couple from Vancouver chatting about the traffic.

"It's like rush hour at the Massey Tunnel," said one.

Suggested the other: Whistler needs to put in a counter flow lane all the way into the parking lots, or do free park-n-ride outside town.

I didn't hear the rest of the conversation as they moved off, but their comments struck a chord as I had joked that very day with a colleague about the ridiculous number of cars on the highway and how it no longer felt like a resort — it felt like I was in downtown Vancouver.

It also reminded me of a family trip to Jasper a couple of years ago where the traffic was so bad we decided not to even stop and visit the town since parking, and everything to do with vehicles, was too much hassle. Extreme I know (we had already driven for hours and perhaps we had not eaten enough, or stored enough water in the car).

During the 2010 Winter Olympics here the highway actually did have two lanes coming into town, and it worked pretty well. Perhaps adopting this again as a strategy for dealing with high traffic volumes on the busy weekends should be considered.

This would mean losing a good deal of both shoulders, which are, of course, well used by cyclists. No doubt that would be a point of debate for the community.

And what about better signage for public parking beyond the day lots? There are other parking lots, but most visitors are unaware of their locations — and let's face it, a 30-minute struggle to find parking after a highway drive here is a recipe for putting travellers in a bad mood.

What would likely help is proper synchronization of all the traffic lights. Each light has its own bottleneck when it's busy, not to mention the fact that sometimes the traffic feeding on the highway from neighbourhoods barely moves, as the north-south lights change so fast.

The high volume of visitors also creates a lot more garbage and recycling. They use a lot of water during their stays (per capita we use 510 litres/person/day. The Canadian average is 343 litres/person/day), and there is a good deal of wear and tear on the resort's infrastructure.

Don't get me wrong — Whistler welcomes everyone who comes here — and we are grateful and appreciative that visitors chose the resort as a destination over the hundreds of others are available.

But dealing with these issues of volume is just good planning on the resort's part.

We may be a town of 10,500 on quiet days, but on average we are a town of 27,500 per day producing 14,821 tonnes of garbage and sending 6,152 tonnes of recyclables to the depot.

Right now the resort is on top of these issues, but in the future we don't want travellers choosing another place to visit because of traffic snarls, or lack of parking (parking lot revenue was up $20,000 this June to $79,000), or overflowing garbage containers, or poorly maintained parks.

Looking after these issues is part of the cost of running the successful "business" of Whistler.

No doubt it's on council's radar, as our record-breaking summer continues and we welcome Crankworx to rock our town.



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