TRPA looks to free transit, shared-use pathways for traffic solutions in Lake Tahoe

Claire Cudahy
A free shuttle service to Emerald Bay is one of the proposed solutions to reducing car congestion around Lake Tahoe.
Aurora Photos / Rachid Dahnoun |

Transportation by ferry, park-and-ride lots outside of the basin, passenger rail service, dog- and gear-friendly buses, bike-sharing stations, free transit — these are just a handful of the proposed projects that can be found in the 140-page draft transportation plan put out by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency this week.

“This plan is the long-term vision. It’s the blueprint for everything we would like to see in our transportation system,” said Morgan Beryl, TRPA’s senior transportation planner, at the Feb. 22 governing board meeting.

“It’s all about connectivity, from the lake to the mountains to the town center. You can bike, you can park your car and walk, hop on transit, take the ferry, you can hike from the Tahoe Rim Trail to the Gondola — you can get where you need to go in multiple ways,” continued Beryl. “That’s how you can better manage congestion, by offering enhanced, frequent, easy-to-use options.”

Federal law requires transportation plans to be updated every four years, and this draft plan — which the governing board is currently assessing — builds off of the 2012 version that focused on travel within the communities around the lake.

The next step is improving transportation options from town centers and neighborhoods to recreation and popular tourist sites.

One example of this is increasing Tahoe Transportation District’s ride frequency on the South Shore from every hour to every 30 minutes, and extending its service to Meyers and Zephyr Cove. A recreational transit service to Emerald Bay and Echo Summit would help with car congestion in these popular tourist destinations.

Incentive programs, like free-to-use transit or discounts on gear rental for walkers and bikers, are some of the ways Beryl hopes to get people out of cars.

Connecting town centers to recreation sites via pathways is another goal.

“The implementation of this plan will see an additional 25 miles of shared-use paths, and what’s even better is that 20 of those miles are within the first four years and most of them have secured and guaranteed funding,” said Beryl.

Over 100 projects around the lake are outlined in the plan, including the U.S. 50 South Shore Community Revitalization Project (AKA the Loop Road Project), which would circumvent traffic around the casino corridor to create a more walkable town center.

With access to more sophisticated data than in 2012, the planners have 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 shows that Lake Tahoe receives approximately 24 million visitors a year (and 10 million vehicles). By comparison, data from Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority put the total at more like 5-6 million annually.

According to TRPA data, the U.S. 50 South Shore corridor has the highest visitation in all of Lake Tahoe, with nearly 8 million visitors annually (and 80 percent of the lake’s tourist accommodation units). The Meyers ‘Y’ corridor sees 3.9 million visitors annually — the third highest visitation.

“The [TRPA Bi-State Compact] says that we don’t want to expand roadways to meet capacity,” said Beryl, which means things will have to be a little unconventional.

“We want to adaptably manage our roadways. So what that means is operating our roadways in a non-typical way,” explained Beryl. “It could mean holding traffic and allowing buses to pass. It could mean reversing travel all in one direction when we know we have mass exodus such as in ski resorts or during evacuation procedures.”

While many South Shore residents are hoping for a solution to the Sunday traffic jam in Meyers from visitors heading home on U.S. 50, this piece of the transit puzzle won’t be an easy fix (though the stretch of road is slated for a facelift through the Meyers Corridor Operational Improvement Project).

“We need to focus on that internal transportation system, providing options that are seamless and understandable before we can ask folks who are coming to Lake Tahoe to come by rail or bus. They need to know that once they get here they have the options that they need,” explained Beryl.

At that point projects like large parking lots outside of the basin with buses bringing people in will be explored. These projects will be phased in over the next 20 years — if they are approved and get the necessary funding.

Including the projects in the TRPA’s transportation plan does not mean they are green lighted, said Beryl. It means that they are eligible for state and federal funding.

The Linking Tahoe: Regional Transportation Plan is open for public comment until March 24. It can be found at

The TRPA Governing Board will vote on whether to approve the plan at a meeting on April 26.

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