Making transportation more accessible around Lake Tahoe

Katelyn Welsh /

In a destination known for million dollar views and SUVs named after it, some may not know that a significant demographic has a hard time getting around Lake Tahoe. That’s according to the almost 90 page Transportation Equity Study put out by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency in September.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency produced a Transportation Equity Study that will guide their policy decisions in the next Regional Transportation Plan. They produced the study in September, 2023. Provided / Tahoe Regional Planning Agency
TRPA Drone July 2022 -63

Those most affected by transportation challenges

In the first study of its kind for the Tahoe region, the agency highlights five zones around the lake where people regularly run into transportation challenges. The report says these “community priority zones” have barriers keeping disadvantaged populations from getting to work, the store, and even preventing them from getting medical care. These areas include parts of Kings Beach, Incline Village, Bijou, Sierra Tract, and Tahoe Verde.

Provided / Tahoe Regional Planning Agency
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Each of these zones have high concentrations of at least three of these disadvantaged populations, what the TRPA calls “priority communities”:

  • Households with no car
  • Seniors (individuals 65 and older)
  • Individuals with disabilities
  • People living below the poverty line
  • Youth (individuals under 18 years old)
  • BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color)

Any one of these populations make up anywhere from around three percent to over 30 percent of the Tahoe region’s population.

Provided / Tahoe Regional Planning Agency
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The agency mapped how far away these populations are from much needed resources.

One map shows areas where zero vehicle households are far from grocery stores. Some neighborhoods are over two miles away. This makes it more than a chore for those without cars trying stock their fridge. Those particularly affected are in the Tallac Village, Bijou, Sierra Tract, and Tahoe Verde neighborhoods.

Provided / Tahoe Regional Planning Agency
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The agency also looked into how far away those with disabilities are from Medicare facilities. Again, the map shows hotspots at the Bijou, Sierra Tract, and Tahoe Verde neighborhoods. The streets surrounding Sierra Boulevard make up a large portion.

Areas in North Lake are impacted as well. Most avenues north of Rainbow Avenue in Kings Beach fall within the disadvantaged zone.

Incline Village is affected, but to a lesser degree. Those living near Preston Field Park are impacted most in the Nevada province, but not to the extent their western and southern neighbors are.

Provided / Tahoe Regional Planning Agency
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The sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters in front of their mountain backdrops are reasons many do what it takes to live in the basin, but getting to those beaches is harder for some. Another map reveals areas where people living in poverty are the greatest distance from the beach. The patterns closely resemble the maps of groceries stores and medicare facilities when it comes to South Lake. Again, areas in Bijou, Sierra Tract, and Tahoe Verde are areas of concern.

The factors vary for people in North Lake. Distance to the beach is not a concern in Kings Beach. In fact, those living below the poverty level are quite close to the beach there. This is not the case for its eastern neighbor, Incline Village. Spots light up a large portion of its map, specifically central Incline Village.

Provided / Tahoe Regional Planning Agency
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More speed bumps

But proximity struggles aren’t the only speed bumps keeping people from getting to where they want to go. TRPA has identified other barriers with the help of community input from residents, employers and businesses.

If you ever wandered into a blue pop-up tent at a summer music event and wrote your two cents on a post-it note, chances are, you contributed to this study. This was one of many community outreaches put on by the TRPA. They also provided surveys and held focus groups in multiple languages as well.

A Tahoe Regional Planning Agency community outreach booth during a Lake Tahoe event, Aug. 2022. Provided / TRPA

It was through these community outreach events and talks with hospitals, resorts, and other Lake Tahoe agencies that the TRPA identified seven road blocks to equitable transportation.

Senior Transportation Planner Kira Smith says hearing directly from the community was instrumental in identifying transportation challenges.

“Many of the transportation barriers we heard about aligned with the data,” says Smith, “but we also heard about additional barriers that we may never have known about through purely quantitative methods.”

The TRPA identifies these barriers to equitable transportation:

  • Information
  • Availability
  • Accessibility and safety
  • Adequacy of transportation conditions
  • Cost and affordability
  • Distance and time spent traveling
  • Emergency preparedness and resiliency

The study shows the high cost of cars leaves many disadvantaged individuals at the mercy of public transport or other means, such as biking or walking.

But inaccurate, hard to find, and out of date information on public transportation makes it hard to rely on. Some are requesting modifications as simple as posting bus schedules at bus stops. Some say what information is available is still a challenge for those who don’t speak English.

And for those who work early or late, or on the outskirts of town, the current bus availability just isn’t cutting it. Some propose operation hours between 5 a.m. and 11 p.m. Currently the regional busses around Tahoe run between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Community members voice longer bus hours and more destinations would improve transportation in the Tahoe region in the Transportation Equity Study published in September, 2023. Provided / TRPA

Getting to the those bus stations or even just opting to walk to work can be a challenge, residents say, with many neighborhoods lacking sidewalks. Safety becomes an issue with both cars and people navigating the roads. It’s even more limiting for those with disabilities.

This is all exasperated by snow accumulation in the winter.

Still, others worry about wildlife confrontations on unlit walkways.

With the cost of housing going up, many residents are moving farther and farther away, forcing longer trips. This opens them up to more hazards.

Others worry how Lake Tahoe’s transportation network will weather emergencies, like severe winter storms or wildfire evacuations. Two things residents know well.

Paving the way forward

The TRPA plans on smoothing out these bumps with new policies and action plans in their Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy (RTP/SCS) of 2025. They say a two-part process of gleaning public input before and after the policies were made helped fine-tune their attack on the area’s transportation issues.

Among these policies are plans to overcome language barriers with translated materials, starting with a Spanish version of this study in the coming weeks. Also proposed are bilingual emergency messaging systems at the center of tourist spots.

The TRPA proposes designating at least 30 percent of their outreach efforts to disadvantaged communities and ensure communities of color, Tribal communities, and communities representing people with disabilities are represented in advisory boards.

Residents in the most impacted zones are having their needs heard with snow removal. Ensuring adequate sidewalk clearing is on the list of plans in community priority zones. The study also proposes alternatives such as ride-shares and shuttles with incentives to employers.

The TRPA office says they are currently updating their Active Transportation Plan to include several proposals for new sidewalk and bike path connections.

They also propose a policy on improving accessibility with options that don’t require a smart phone. Transit schedule kiosks and micro-mobility options are on the list.

Some of their transportation plans dovetail with housing equity, climate justice, and sustainable communities, according to Senior Transportation Planner Smith. One example are motion sensor street lights to keep residents feeling secure while reducing energy waste.

Another goal with all these plans is making sure it’s all affordable for low-income households.

And finally, developing interstate and jurisdiction collaborations to make sure equity has a smooth ride from one boundary to the next.

TRPA personnel say these are endorsed policies only. Their governing board still needs to adopt them and could make changes in the next two years before finalizing them for their 2025 RTP/SCS.

The full Transportation Equity Study is available on the TRPA’s website.

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