Continued involvement called for at Meyers community meeting on traffic | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Continued involvement called for at Meyers community meeting on traffic

Jeffrey Spencer responds to a comment from the audience Friday, Feb. 1, in Meyers.
Ryan Hoffman / Tahoe Daily Tribune

MEYERS, Calif. — If anything is going to be done about the traffic issues plaguing neighborhoods it’s going to take continued engagement from residents.

That was the recurring message Friday night at a community meeting for residents, some of whom expressed concern about the public safety impacts. Others were angry, and most were hoping to hear a solution.

The overarching message, though, was change would come from engagement and power in numbers.

“We have to be involved,” Jeffrey Spencer, the meeting’s moderator, told the audience of more than 150 people.

The current winter, with early season storms drawing droves of tourists, has reignited simmering frustration and concern felt by Meyers residents, many of whom don’t leave their homes on Sunday due to the traffic.

The sheer number of cars combined with the use of navigation apps has taken the traffic from U.S. 50 to neighborhood streets.

The meeting was the first step in what was referred to as a “grassroots effort” focused on addressing the issue — a problem local officials have been working on for years but with few measurable results.

Some suggested increased enforcement of chain requirements and parking laws. Others asked for chain requirement signs to be placed on more county roads.

One man suggested changing traffic flow, including preventing right turns from North Upper Truckee onto U.S. 50, which would force cars to turn left back into town rather than waiting to turn right, causing traffic to back up onto North Upper Truckee. That could have the consequence of causing traffic to back up farther on U.S. 50 into South Lake Tahoe.

Enforcement on the other hand is a matter of resources, California Highway Patrol Lt. Terry Lowther explained. CHP does enforce parking along U.S. 50 when officers are not responding to emergencies.

“They’re supposed to do everything they can to keep traffic moving,” he said.

However, unlike other law enforcement agencies that can bring in outside resources at peak times, CHP cannot call in additional resources unless it is an actual emergency.

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One option that isn’t possible, Lowther said, is restricting traffic on neighborhood streets to locals only. Traffic on public streets can’t be limited to only a specific class of people — if a public street is open it must be open to everyone. Further, streets can’t be arbitrarily closed, Lowther said.

From the lieutenant’s perspective, the problem is technology.

CHP has explored the idea of using the agriculture inspection station on westbound U.S. 50 as a reason for enacting electronic closures on neighborhood streets that could be used to circumvent the inspection station.

An electronic closure would, in theory, prevent the navigation apps from directing traffic onto those streets, although there are unanswered questions if the apps’ algorithms would notice traffic moving onto those streets and override the electronic closures.

CHP can enforce the inspection laws, but it cannot implement the closures without a valid reason, such as a car crash, Lowther told the Tribune Friday night. The county and city do not have the technological capability to upload electronic closures. Caltrans does have the technology but it doesn’t enact closures on roads outside its jurisdictions without approval.

In June, El Dorado County and CHP sent a letter to Waze, a navigation app owned by Google, asking the company to consider the electronic closures. Waze never responded to the letter, according to the county.

“They just plain ignored them,” Spencer, a transportation planner and previous candidate for El Dorado supervisor, said of Waze’s response to the county and CHP.

The top priority, form Spencer’s perspective, concerns state law that effectively leaves enforcement on local roads to the state.

“We need to take the handcuffs off the county,” he told the Tribune after Friday’s meeting.

Spencer is in the process of drafting a letter to distribute to residents, with the ultimate goal of sending the letters to a state transportation committee. If locals can flood the committee with letters, it will take notice, he said.

That same idea needs to be applied locally. If residents are concerned with the number of people coming into the basin, they need to attend Tahoe Regional Planning Agency meetings. If residents want changes at the county level, they need to attend supervisor meetings.

“We are the force … we have to speak up,” Spencer said.

While there were few concrete solutions hatched at the meeting, Tony Risso, a Meyers resident who organized the meeting, told the Tribune it was a positive first step.

“It’s a start,” he said.

Risso and others plan to keep the effort going, although he cautioned change would not be immediate.

“Something is going to happen eventually.”