Navigation app company Waze to El Dorado County: Local governments responsible for traffic | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Navigation app company Waze to El Dorado County: Local governments responsible for traffic

Local government is responsible for managing local traffic.

That was the message from Waze, a navigation app owned by Google, in response to a letter sent by El Dorado County regarding concerns over Google's navigation app.

The county, along with Barton Memorial Hospital CEO Clint Purvance, sent a letter to Google on Feb. 12 expressing concerns about traffic backups in residential streets.

The officials asked Waze to help keep traffic off neighborhood streets.

Residents have been increasingly vocal about concerns stemming from heavy weekend traffic clogging neighborhood roads amid the mad rush to leave town on Sundays.

Residents and officials have pointed to navigation apps, such as Waze and Google Maps, as a primary reason for the traffic, which has long been a problem, spreading from main thoroughfares to residential areas.

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Waze, as a company spokesperson explained to the Tribune, is designed to reduce traffic by directing drivers away from congested areas.

With U.S. 50 regularly resembling a parking lot on Sundays, the apps direct people to side streets in an attempt to shave travel time.

In their letter, the local officials asked Google and Waze to enact electronic closures on side streets "in residential areas as drivers exit South Lake Tahoe and head west …"

The use of electronic closures was first proposed by California Highway Patrol and has since been advocated for by Kenny Curtzwiler, a longtime resident and repeated candidate for elected office.

The idea is to use the agriculture inspection station in Meyers and a state law that prohibits vehicles from circumventing such inspection stations to enact electronic closures, which would work much the same way as when a car crash closes a road. A closure notice is uploaded and then detected by the navigation companies, which direct traffic to a different route.

February's letter was the second sent by El Dorado County to Google. A letter sent in June by the county and CHP did not trigger a response.

This time around, a Waze official responded.

"While we get requests to alter our algorithm or refrain from routing to certain roads from time to time, our position has always remained consistent: local government has the authority and responsibility to set driving laws and travel restrictions, not Waze or any other navigation app," Thais Blumenthal wrote in a response to the county. "If the local government decides on a specific speed limit, one-way traffic designation or time based turn restrictions, the Waze map will reflect that reality. But if the governing body deems a road as public and navigable, it will used for routing as needed for the benefit of everyone."

"We do not route drivers based on inspections stations location, checkpoints, or any other information that isn't connected to congestion levels."

Blumenthal went on to suggest the county join Waze's "Connected Citizens Program."

In an email to the Tribune, a Waze spokesperson explained the citizens program "empowers partners with free tools and data so they can make better planning decisions."

Carla Hass, spokesperson for El Dorado County, said the county appreciated having a clear response from Waze.

"I think the parties involved in looking for solutions have hung their hat on the notion of getting the mobile app companies to stop what they're doing. And I think this response is an indication that is unlikely," Hass told the Tribune.

However, that does not mean the county will stop trying to work with the companies.

"I wouldn't say that we've abandoned our strategy to try and work with the app companies," she said. "We'll continue to try and have a dialogue."

As for next steps, Hass said the county will continue working with stakeholders, including agencies, residents and others.

That includes a Monday meeting between Curtzwiler and officials with the county, CHP and Caltrans.

Curtzwiler, who has urged the county to bypass the app companies and work directly with Caltrans to upload electronic closures on county roads, expressed confidence that he will be able to convince the county to implement his suggestion.

He credited the community hitting a boiling point as the reason local officials has upped their sense of urgency regarding the problem.

"This is a win-win-win situation no matter how you slice it."