TAG to present alternative transportation proposals to council
By Andrew Mitchell
On an average day in 1991, more than 10,000 cars would cruise down Highway 99 — and those were the good old days. In 1998, that number had increased to more than 15,000. During the summer, when the Valley Trail is open for easy cycling, roller-blading and jogging, the numbers are actually worse — close to 18,000 cars every single day.
Those numbers cause routine traffic tie-ups in the village, a substantial rush-hour problem and delays of up to 30 minutes from the village to Creekside during peak visitor times. You can blame the tourists. You can blame commuters. You can blame slow drivers and old cars with only two-wheel drive. But if you own a car and drive it on a daily basis, you are part of the problem.
A solution, however, may be on its way.
On Feb. 21, the Transportation Advisory Group (TAG) of Whistler will present their first set of recommendations to Whistler council to reduce the number of cars on local roads.
"We are presenting a plan to council, based on recommendations made by the TAG group, and will ask council to approve the plan in principal," says municipal administrator Jim Godfrey. "If recommendations involve spending municipal money they will have to be tabled again by council at a future date before they can be formally approved, but we will be moving forward in the meantime on many of the transportation issues."
Formed in 1996 to address transportation issues in Whistler, TAG includes representatives from Whistler-Blackcomb, Tourism Whistler, the Resort Municipality of Whistler, local business organizations, B.C. Transit and the Ministry of Transportation and Highways. For the past three years, they have monitored traffic and parking and recommended expansions to the Valley Trail network and public transportation services, while preparing a long-term plan to relieve congestion on local roads.
The completed 15-year plan, called the Whistler Comprehensive Transportation Strategy, contains more than 50 recommendations on everything from expanding transit services in town to improving rail service to Vancouver. If all the recommendations are adopted by council, capital project costs run as high as $45 million, and annual program costs as high as $3.5 million.
The task of reviewing the recommendations in the strategy to determine what programs are priorities for the municipality and what changes can wait belonged to Susie Ross, the Whistler Transport Demand Co-ordinator.
"Our primary goal is to get people excited about the change and the impact they're having on the environment and their own lives," says Ross. "Riding the bus is a positive for the environment and your pocketbook. Riding a bike is a positive for your health. So much emphasis has been placed on the negative pay-parking issue — which is not even a certainty at this point — rather than on the positives of giving people an alternative to driving their cars."
The first phase will focus on expanding transit services and convincing people to use them, and continuing to expand and improve the Valley Trail System. Improved commuting for the 20 per cent of Whistler employees who live in Pemberton and Squamish is also considered a priority, through the expansion of regional and local bus services.
After the first phase is complete, council and TAG will study traffic to see if it is having a positive effective before implementing the next phase.
"If things don't appearing to be as working as well as they should, we will step up our measures until they do," says Godfrey.
Although pay parking is likely to be a component of future measures, he says it won't be implemented until efficient and cost-effective alternatives to driving can be offered to resort employees.