Connected by cars | SierraSun.com

Connected by cars

Julie Brown
Sierra Sun
Seth Lightcap/Sierra SunPedestrians cross Fanny Bridge in Tahoe City Wednesday.
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When Tahoe residents travel, they travel in cars ” this is the problem that more than 40 Tahoe residents convened to tackle Tuesday night in Kings Beach. And, if local averages hold true, most drove their cars to the meeting to talk transportation.

Once at meeting, one of the principal reasons for car dependency became clear. In Tahoe, it’s impractical to walk.

Each participant was given a walkability score at the meeting, which is based on the proximity of their residence to basic services. The number, ranging from zero to 100, roughly indicates how easy it is to get around on foot.

Only 12 participants received a score above 50, the lowest possible walkable rating. The remaining 30 participants live in neighborhoods within walking range of only a few destinations, or none at all.

And after participants adjusted their score to factor in such issues as weather conditions, safety and topography, only three people kept their ratings above 50.

All the information gathered at meeting will be used to update the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s Regional Transportation Plan ” which will be used to guide and net funding for transportation projects around the lake.

With small communities scattered along a linear highway that wraps around the lake, encouraging alternative forms of transportation is a challenge in the Tahoe Basin, said Darin Dinsmore, with Regional Planning Partners, who is coordinating the public outreach for the transportation plan.

“If [transit] is not convenient, we will never reduce our dependence on the automobile,” Dinsmore said in a phone interview following the public meeting.

Tahoe’s urban centers, however, rate fairly high on the walkability scale, Dinsmore said.

So the solution must focus on diversifying mobility options within the urban center” building sidewalks and bike paths, and keeping them accessible in the winter ” while at the same time, improving transit services that connect to the outlying areas and neighborhoods, Dinsmore said.

“Some of these neighborhoods that are too far away that [residents] may not walk to downtown, then they may at least walk to a transit stop or bicycle,” Dinsmore said.

Scheduled for adoption this summer, the Regional Transportation Plan will take a comprehensive look at transit in Tahoe, including infrastructure, redevelopment proposals, land use, boosting existing services and diversifying transit options. The transportation plan, developed by the Tahoe Metropolitan Planning Organization, was last updated in 2004.

One of the primary goals of Basin agencies is to reduce dependence on the automobile. An online survey conducted by the Tahoe Metropolitan Planning Organization revealed that 80 percent of respondents drive to work alone in their cars.

Lowering vehicle-miles-traveled will accelerate the attainment of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s environmental thresholds, or goals, for air quality and water quality, said Dennis Oliver, agency spokesman.

The transportation plan will also outline and prioritize transit projects ” including the Kings Beach Commercial Core Improvement Project, the Tahoe City Transit Center, the Fanny Bridge realignment and the Lake Tahoe Waterborne Transit plan ” to help secure funding.

“It just provides a blueprint for what your priorities are when you go out to seek funding,” Oliver said, noting that the transportation plan won’t get these projects on the ground until the funding comes together.

While federal, state and local resources all contribute to transportation projects, Keith Norberg, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency transportation representative, predicted at Tuesday’s meeting that state and federal deficits will transfer more financial responsibility for transportation to local jurisdictions.

There is talk about establishing a regional transit authority, Oliver said. And local jurisdictions may need to raise money, possibly by passing a county transportation sales tax, to leverage state and federal funds, he said.

“We’ve gotten to the stage with some of these projects where we’ve got to figure out a way to actually deliver them,” Oliver said. “You can’t just talk forever about solving the transportation problems. Talk can only go so far. Meanwhile, traffic backs up.”

The plan’s update is occurring simultaneously to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s 20-year regional plan update, and it’s important the two reflect each other, officials said.

“This is an opportunity to make sure they talk to each other and make sense,” Dinsmore said.

The Kings Beach public meeting was the first of two. The second was held Wednesday evening on the South Shore.

– They have a discernible center, such as a shopping district, a main street or a public space.

– The neighborhood is dense enough for local businesses to flourish and for public transportation to be cost-effective.

– Housing is provided for everyone who works in the neighborhood, including the young and old, singles and families, rich and poor.

– There are plenty of parks and public places for people to gather.

– The neighborhood is accessible to everyone, including wheelchair users. It should have plenty of benches with shade and sidewalks.

– Streets are well-connected and improve traffic by providing many routes to any destination.

– Buildings are designed with pedestrians in mind. They should be placed close to the street to cater to foot traffic.

– Residences should be close enough to schools and workplaces so people can walk from their homes.