Ribaudo column: Ideas for addressing traffic, overcrowding at Lake Tahoe (opinion)

Local Musings

Traffic, crowding? Oh really? Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, traffic and crowding have returned to South Shore with a vengeance this winter season. Well really it never left — even in the traditional shoulder season we have seen very busy weekends. But the level of traffic and crowding have reached epic levels.

We have heard the stories: locals in Meyers and Christmas Valley unable to get to their homes for hours, visitors taking half a day to get to Placerville. We all have our traffic stories. A few weeks back I had a meeting in Placerville and left Saturday morning only to turnaround after spending an hour on the road and not even reaching Sierra-at-Tahoe.

The size and scope of the problem and the inability of law enforcement, Caltrans and local governments to fix it makes the issue even more daunting. Guess what? It’s going to get worse. That’s right. The population in California will continue to grow (6 million more people in California over the next 15 years), so don’t look for an easy solution. In fact, there are no easy solutions. Add to that the mess created at the snow park on Echo Summit and the traffic jam at Sierra-at-Tahoe and it’s downright ugly.

Congestion pricing is being used in more and more places, and it’s proving to be an excellent market-based approach to reducing crowding. We have always undercharged visitors in the destination, look at what it costs to visit Monterey, Santa Barbara, Napa or Sonoma.

To deal with this big, and getting bigger, problem we must begin to think of different ideas. We will need to change visitor behavior in a way we have not considered before. Here are some of my thoughts to get the discussion going.

First, we need a much more aggressive communication program to make consumers aware of the traffic and crowding they will experience, and get them to consider mid-week and off-season visitation. We need to educate visitors long before they get here. The LTVA can make consumers aware of options to visitors considering a visit during the weekend. How about we get a dozen or more of the mobile Caltrans signs and make visitors aware of the traffic and crowding conditions as soon as they leave Placerville? Remind them to leave before 8 a.m. on Sunday or after 8 p.m. Simply waiting until people get in the basin is too late.

When they check in, every hotel should make them aware of the best times to leave. We need constant information flowing before they get to South Shore, throughout their time on South Shore, and when people are leaving. Let them know the drive time to Stateline, Heavenly and Carson City.

It’s also time to consider demand or congestion pricing. Why not consider more aggressive weekend versus mid-week pricing? Not just at hotels, but restaurants, equipment rentals and ski resorts, parking, etc. Many restaurants use different pricing for lunch and dinner. Why not have mid-week and weekend pricing? Perhaps if someone wants to ski or board on Saturday afternoon a lift ticket should cost $200.

Congestion pricing is being used in more and more places, and it’s proving to be an excellent market-based approach to reducing crowding. We have always undercharged visitors in the destination, look at what it costs to visit Monterey, Santa Barbara, Napa or Sonoma.

Get serious about mass transit in South Shore. Other communities and destinations have much better mass transit and we need to get real about fixing ours. We need the Loop Road project just to keep up.

Finally, it may be time to rethink the basic model of tourism this destination has used for decades — that larger volumes of visitors is good. Maybe we need to rethink that notion and focus on fewer visitors that generate higher spending.

We can choose to keep doing what we are doing or make small changes around the edges, but the size and scope of the challenge has outrun those options. Think bigger in terms of managing tourism or it will manage us.

The Big Picture

Gov. Newsom is rattling cages and it’s good to see. In his budget proposal he threatened to withhold transit funding to counties and cities that fail to build more housing. The state of California just sued the Huntington Beach for its failure to build enough housing. How is this all going to play out on the California side of Tahoe? Can’t wait to see.


If you are heading to Reno don’t miss MidTown. There are lots of tasty restaurants. Here is a couple to check out: Mid-Town Eats, Two Chicks and Arario. Also don’t miss the Super Bowl commercials.

It’s a Wrap

Welcome to the new year, everyone. There are lots of changes, lots of anger and a more divided country and community. Let’s hope we can do better this year.

Carl Ribaudo is a columnist, consultant, speaker and writer who lives in South Lake Tahoe. He can be reached at

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