Peter Andrew Albert: Inspired by students
I was inspired by the local students who track the science of climate change and yet do not give up hope. I loved their optimism that if we can alter our behavior, we can halt the catastrophic trends of warming, drought and storms that dominate today’s headlines.
According to the California Air Resources Board, transportation – e.g., the automobile — is the state’s biggest source of carbon emissions. I live in Northstar. I realize that this wouldn’t work for many of my neighbors, but I have spent this last year without ever getting behind the wheel of a car.
I ride TART to the grocery and hardware stores, and to the train depot for rides down to the Bay Area. I outfitted my e-bike with paniers to bring home supplies. Mostly, though, I walk: to the Northstar Village for recreation, restaurants and the small grocery/supply store. The reward, in this region of extraordinary beauty, is the ability to travel while soaking it all in. I study landscapes, scan for wildlife, and guess what the clouds are up to all while I’m actually heading somewhere.
It helps to have an e-bike that can take steep hills. It helps that the streets and trails around Truckee and Northstar are pedestrian- and bike-friendly. It helps that TART is free: for the economics, as well as the convenience of not fumbling for change.
That said, I see gaps that have made living car-free difficult. Much of this region isn’t connected by TART or bike trails. And I want to be clear: riding a bike on the shoulder of 267 is not for the faint of heart. I rode the sumptuous bike trails along Schaffer Mill Road to connect from Northstar to Truckee, until somebody posted signs and fenced off the private trails so the public cannot use them. I will eagerly wait for a new public trail to be built through Martis Valley, but in the meantime, drivers, please keep an eye out for cyclists in the skinny strip of asphalt alongside what feels like a freeway.
COVID was also a challenge. Amtrak’s Zephyr and Capitol Corridor services were drastically cut back, so trips to the Bay Area were harder to schedule. Happily, Amtrak will soon be serving Truckee daily in both directions again, and this is where I see a terrific opportunity to reduce local carbon emissions.
The Truckee/Tahoe area receives four million visitors annually, mostly from the Bay Area, Sacramento and Reno. We accept these visitors as essential to our economy, but their traffic is a headache of pollution, congestion, parking and (especially with icy roads) danger. And their behind-the-wheel experience is miserable, too. They arrive stressed-out about the drive up, already dreading the bumper-to-bumper slog back home. All the great local bike trails and free transit don’t really help if we don’t intercept more visitors before they get into their cars.
There are options like the Tahoe Convoy and the Tahoe Ski Bus, but these are young-weekend-skier-oriented. Amtrak is for everybody, and it’s a focus in the post-COVID infrastructure plan that returns the daily Zephyr trains to Truckee and upgrades service on the Capitol Corridor. These investments should be supported through marketing to visitors by ski resorts, hotels, restaurants and services like TART. The train rolls and glides through over twenty tunnels on its way to Truckee. It goes through forests and crosses rivers car drivers never see. Why not make a trip to Tahoe synonymous with sitting back, refreshment in hand, gazing at spectacular scenery?
Market this: on the train, you can chat with your kids, read a book, catch up on emails, protect the environment, and forget about chains, icy roads, congestion and parking. Stow your equipment or rent at the resort: the marketing could include discounts that reward people for not taking parking spaces or contributing to traffic jams.
The Capitol Corridor trains have an impressive on-time reliability record, and in pre-COID 2019, they carried 1.8 million riders between Auburn and San Jose. This June, Amtrak will run 22 weekday trains and 18 weekend trains. Imagine if just two of these trains, one in each direction, were extended to Truckee in addition to Amtrak’s Zephyr!
For many, driving is essential to freedom and convenience. I found a freedom and convenience in not driving. My optimism is not about returning to pre-COVID patterns, but in creating new, better patterns. Our children deserve this, and the Tahoe/Truckee area seems up to the task.
Peter Andrew Albert lives in Northstar.
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