Samantha Smith: Ban private cars in Little Cottonwood Canyon

Only better bus service will cure the gridlock on the road to ski resorts.

(Suzanne Paylor | The Salt Lake Tribune) Motorists have trouble driving in Little Cottonwood Canyon during a storm on Friday, November 29, 2019.

The solution to the gridlock plaguing Little Cottonwood Canyon isn’t exciting, or even particularly novel.

Sleek and expensive proposals are gaining traction with leaders, including picturesque gondolas or a cogtrain up the steep canyon. Neither of these proposals, nor a proposal for expanded bus service within the canyon, grapples with the real problem: the inevitable bottleneck leading up to the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon, regardless of whether there are trains, gondolas or buses heading up the canyon.

Why? Because winter sports enthusiasts will still have to drive to the mouth of the canyon and find parking nearby. The proposed solutions literally and figuratively kick the can a few hundred feet down the road.

The solution: Ban civilian car traffic in Little Cottonwood Canyon while expanding and requiring use of speedy, efficient, resort-destined buses from more park and ride lots distributed around the valley.

Leaders should look to the example of Zion National Park, which prohibits civilian traffic on its Scenic Drive road. Buses in Zion shuttle passengers to a number of stops along the canyon road, eliminating traffic jams and parking wars while promoting tranquility.

In Salt Lake County, unless required, a minority of people take the bus. Taking the bus is a horrible ordeal, to be done only in dire circumstances, such as when our cars are in the shop and we can’t bum a ride from friends.

I am a longtime public transit taker, and the worst part (worse even than the fellow passengers farting in an enclosed space) is the agonizingly long time it takes to get anywhere when the bus stops every three hundred feet.

Currently, UTA operates only a handful of resort-destined park and ride lots. Buses from these lots make only a couple of stops, traveling expediently to the ski resorts — a far cry from the standard bus trip involving countless stops. Unfortunately, because there are so few if these lots, they fill up quickly. They are also concentrated on the east side of the valley. Few people are willing to ride a regular bus from West Valley to reach a ski resort park and ride lot in Midvale for a second bus journey. It simply takes too long to get across the valley to a resort via bus under the present system.

By increasing and evenly distributing resort-destined park and ride lots with streamlined routes, these buses will efficiently ferry passengers directly to the resorts, becoming a desirable mode of transportation. UTA will eliminate guaranteed bottlenecks situated around parking structures for gondolas or trains.

It won’t be as thrilling as gondolas, but it will be a sustainable, long-term solution.

Samantha Smith

Samantha Smith is an attorney living in Salt Lake County.