East Shore Shuttle downshifts | TahoeDailyTribune.com

East Shore Shuttle downshifts

Greg Risling

The East Shore Shuttle project is heading south. One month after launching a free transit service oriented to beach-faring visitors on the weekends, the response has been mediocre, according to Richard Hill, director of the Tahoe Transportation District. The most interest shown for the two 44-passenger buses running on State Route 28 from Incline Village to Spooner Summit, was 10 people during the last weekend of July.

“We’ve had only a handful of passengers who have used the shuttle,” said Hill. “We took a hands-off approach to see if people were attracted to it. So far, we’ve had a limited response.”

A key to funding renewal for transportation projects is the amount of riders. Without better numbers, the East Shore Shuttle could be in jeopardy.

Hill said he anticipated a low turnout.

“It’s a new program and people will use their automobile unless there is a superior alternative,” he said. “We’re committed to maintaining access to that area. But it’s up to people to make their own choice.”

The catalyst for the shuttle was a U.S. Forest Service attempt to reduce erosion caused by pedestrians walking to the various clothing-optional beaches. The project entailed distinctively marking three trails that wind up at a newly-constructed transit stop south of Chimney Beach.

Since July, the Forest Service has sent a squad of rangers to measure the amount of people sunbathing on the beaches. Over the Fourth of July weekend, approximately 500 visitors were on the East Shore. That number is significantly less than the projected figure of 850 in a 1988 forest plan.

“We’ve seen less people than in recent years because of the high water level and less available sand,” said Don Lane, a recreation forest service officer. “We are trying to re-assess the carrying capacity for the East Shore and manage the fragile resource.”

An attempt to entice more passengers by prohibiting a quarter-mile stretch of public parking south of Chimney Beach has fizzled. Although there is no longer foot traffic in the no parking zone, most beachgoers park on other shoulders and hike down brush-covered trails to the shoreline.

TTD officials tonight will consider requesting that the Nevada Department of Transportation expand the weekend parking ban an extra half-mile to the south. TTD officials claim their request could be approved by this weekend. However, NDOT officials could not be reached to verify whether such a request would be approved, let alone implemented by Saturday.

“This is a demonstration project and up until now it hasn’t worked,” said North Swanson, referring to the shuttle. The coordinator for Tahoe Area Naturists, Swanson said parking prohibitions on Highway 28 force people to either go elsewhere or trample the terrain. “With no parking, it’s like pointing a gun at your head. You have to take the shuttle or else.”

Because of the current no-parking statute, some people have opted to park farther south. Lane said more than 70 trails line the hillside above the shoreline, 95 percent of which are user-created paths.

“I would tell the people using the illegal trails that they are destroying the vegetation and hurting the lake,” continued Lane. “People don’t like to be told what to do or where to park. They are attracted to the naturalness of the area but are also destroying it.”

There are proponents who would like to eliminate all of the shoulder parking on SR 28, said Hill. The winding road is considered one of the top 10 scenic byways in the United States and roadside parking poses an environmental and safety problem.

Jeff Cutler, assistant executive director for the League to Save Lake Tahoe, said the organization supports parking lots in Incline Village and Spooner Summit to aid the shuttle program.

“People are walking straight down the hill and creating their own trails,” said Cutler. “If we don’t give the public more options, there might be a lot of resistance to no parking off the highway.”

breakout box

What: Tahoe Transportation District to discuss parking near East Shore beaches off State Route 28

Where: North Tahoe Conference Center, Kings Beach

When: 7 p.m.

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