Let's get moving 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY BRADEN DUPUIS
  • Photo by Braden Dupuis

Clearly, there is a great deal of interest in our transportation woes if the 350 people who turned out for the community forum on the issue are any indication.

Not only did they listen and participate in round-table discussion for close to three hours, they left scores of sticky notes with suggestions and rated the Resort Municipality of Whistler's short- and long-term goals.

It was encouraging to see the engagement and to hear from officials that solutions like adding the Olympic third lane back into the highway, running an express bus on the Sea to Sky Highway and expanding the free buses on the weekends in summer are on the table for discussion.

After all, it's clear that the traffic volume is not going to decrease any time soon.

It was also interesting to see other jurisdictions' reactions to traffic woes and congestion this week.

We saw frustration from users of Mount Seymour trying to access the area for backcountry use and other recreation, such as snowshoeing and skiing. Some spent hours getting to the parking lot before they ever got to play in the snow.

Granted, there are busy outdoor weekends every year in the mountains and parks in and around the Lower Mainland, but there is a general consensus that our parks and recreation areas — read ski resorts here as well — are getting busier and busier.

"Really, it's the explosion in winter backcountry use that we're seeing — winter hiking, snowshoeing and to some degree, backcountry skiing — and people are just loving it up there, which is awesome," Dylan Eyers, section head for the Lower Mainland for BC Parks told the North Shore News recently.

"But back in the day, when these parks were originally planned for and developed, we didn't really anticipate there being upwards of 1,000 folks showing up just to go snowshoeing."

We saw this first hand last summer at Joffre Lake where on one summer day, over 400 cars were parked along the highway.

BC Parks is considering what other parks have done to cope with increasing traffic at Mount Seymour including: increasing shuttle service, creating a reservation system, charging for vehicle access, building more parking lots, building a gondola to the base, and setting up a ride-share program.

The easiest way to address some of the busyness is to open for longer hours, but this is not an option for a resort like Whistler — our town feels like it never closes.

This love affair with nature should be encouraged and supported, but as it continues to expand, the sheer numbers of those using parks and resorts needs to be considered carefully.

Another example of this overflow can be seen every weekend at Brandywine Falls where cars are parked all along the Sea to Sky Highway so people can access the park. The parking lot is gated and closed in the winter. Surely, the easy way to address this issue is simply open the parking lot in winter.

Over the last few weeks, we have also seen a letter to provincial ministers from the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) reiterating its opposition to the proposed Garibaldi at Squamish (GAS) ski resort, which if it goes ahead, will add 22,000 bed units (Whistler is capped at 54,000) to the corridor, potentially housing 8,000 people just north of Squamish in single-family homes and townhouses as well as condos and hotels.

The GAS application states that the effect of increased traffic congestion and increased vehicle collisions are considered to be "not significant," though it is expected to add 12 to 17 per cent to daily traffic overall and 15 to 25 per cent at peak hours.

It feels like traffic on the Sea to Sky Highway is becoming a bigger problem almost every weekend.

Add in the fact that the region is set to grow in the coming years, with or without GAS, and traffic becomes an even thornier issue.

Can the issue be addressed? Absolutely. But the solution will come by looking at all the moving parts — land development, regional growth, using parking lots efficiently, improving transit options, working to improve the highway, minimizing traffic delays due to accidents or poor weather, and managing traffic flow.

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