South Shore makes strides in greener transportation in 2017
With tourist car traffic continuing to put pressure on the Tahoe Basin, 2017 saw an increased focus on alternative transportation on the South Shore.
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency released an updated transportation plan in April with around 100 proposed projects and programs aiming to get people out of their cars over the next 20 years.
In 1982 the agency adopted nine environmental thresholds, which set standards for the Tahoe Basin, including one for air quality. Part of achieving that goal includes reducing U.S. 50 traffic and overall vehicle miles traveled.
With access to more sophisticated data than in 2012 — the time of the last transportation plan update — the planners had much more in-depth information on the unique travel patterns in the basin, which change depending on the day of the week and time of year. The new data, gleaned from cell phone tracking, shows that Lake Tahoe receives approximately 24 million visitors a year and 10 million vehicles.
Transportation by ferry, park-and-ride lots outside of the basin, passenger rail service, dog- and gear-friendly buses, bike-sharing stations, and free transit were just a handful of the proposed projects found in the 140-page document.
The implementation of this plan also calls for an additional 25 miles of shared-use paths, around 20 of which are within the first four years and most with secured funding.
Transportation officials say that the highest priorities are creating a seamless transportation system between the various towns around the lake, within those communities, and to popular recreation and tourist destinations before turning attention to getting people into the basin without cars.
Though the plan paints a rosy picture of the future of transportation in Tahoe, it should be noted that a project’s inclusion in the plan does not mean it is green-lighted; it means it’s eligible for state and federal funding.
So far of the $5.8 billion needed for the proposed projects in the plan, $2 billion has been secured.
One such unique transportation project to receive an injection of funding this year was the proposed commuter ferry traveling between Tahoe City and South Lake Tahoe. After three years of stagnation, the Tahoe Transportation District (TTD) was awarded a $486,000 grant by the Federal Highway Administration to continue work on the project.
The hydrofoil boat would fit around 120 people with room for bikes and other gear and take about 20-25 minutes to cross the lake. The project still needs to undergo a lengthy environmental review, get approval from the necessary agencies, and secure $38.4 million in funding, so it’s not expected to hit the water until 2020.
It was a busy year for TTD, which released the draft environmental document for its divisive U.S. 50/South Shore Community Revitalization Project, also referred to as the Loop Road Project. The agency is currently responding to public comments on the draft document for the project that seeks to realign U.S. 50 around the casino corridor to improve traffic flow and create a more walkable downtown area. The final environmental document is expected out in the spring, kicking off the process of selecting the project’s route from the five alternatives, which include a no-build option.
This October, TTD also approved a funding agreement with Lake Tahoe Community College to allow current students with a valid LTCC identification card to ride all local transit services for free during the academic year.
Additionally, the transportation agency received an $850,000 grant this year to purchase a battery-electric powered bus.
On the subject of greener transportation, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino installed 14 Tesla Superchargers this year, becoming the first location on the South Shore to offer the expedited service for electric vehicles.
According to PlugShare, an app that helps electric vehicle drivers locate nearby charging stations, there are now 19 public multi-plug charging hubs on the South Shore. The TRPA is continuing to work on implementing its Tahoe-Truckee Plug-in Electric Vehicle Readiness Plan which, among other initiatives, will let visitors know its possible to bring their electric cars here and educate residents on the benefits and rebates for purchasing one.
In 2017, the South Shore saw a renewed vigor in pedal-powered transportation.
Over the summer, the city of South Lake Tahoe completed its 1-mile bike path connecting Ski Run Boulevard to El Dorado Beach, connecting the Stateline area to the city’s bicycle system that continues down to Camp Richardson.
LimeBike brought its dock-less bike-sharing program to the area for a three-month pilot project starting in July. Powered by an app, users could ride one of the 200 free-floating bikes at a rate of $1 per 30 minutes then leave it where the ride was terminated. Though the program received some criticism from bike shop owners and residents who complained of bikes left in odd locations, rider data pointed to a successful launch — and the company plans to return in the spring.
Editor’s note: This story was part of the Tribune’s annual progress edition. Check out the e-edition here.