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No 'silver bullet' for congestion woes

Community forum on transportation to be scheduled for late January



Whistler's Transportation Advisory Group (TAG) has been busy in its first year since re-forming.

Over the course of six meetings, the TAG has covered everything from the basic principles of transportation engineering to advanced computer simulations of the resort's main intersections — and now they want to share what they've learned with Whistlerites.

A community forum focused on transportation will be held in January.

"They feel that they've learned a bunch of interesting things, they're in the process of developing some actions for this winter and next year, and they really think it's a good time to show the community what we've been working on and what some of the actions are going forward," said general manager of infrastructure services James Hallisey, in a pre-council meeting media briefing on Dec. 6.

The forum will include a condensed version of all the presentations the TAG has seen so far, as well as time for discussion and feedback.

At the Dec. 6 council meeting, Hallisey detailed some of the group's work.

One of the big keys to easing congestion is convincing locals to ditch their cars, he said.

After looking at traffic counts on some of the resort's busiest days last February, both in Whistler and south of town, the TAG found that most of the traffic was actually generated locally.

"We did the same thing in the summer time, looked at the busiest days this past July, and traffic within Whistler far exceeds what's happening south of Whistler," Hallisey said.

The Community Life Survey suggests many Whistlerites are already moving to other modes of transportation, and "they're doing that partly in response to the congestion that's happening," Hallisey said.

"So we're seeing some of those shifts already. Maybe we need to help more people make those decisions, and we're looking at ways."

A pilot project last summer offering free transit during daytime hours on six different Saturdays was hugely successful, with local transit seeing a 52-per-cent increase in ridership on those days.

The increase equates to about 400 fewer vehicles on the road — an encouraging number to be sure — but "those Saturdays were still busy and still congested," Hallisey said.

"Unfortunately it's not the silver bullet, but I'm certain that what we did here improved the situation."

Most of those surveyed said they took the free transit to avoid the hassle of finding a parking space. More free transit is being considered for 2017.

But making a noticeable difference in traffic congestion will likely take a wide range of actions, and the TAG is looking at all options.

Optimizing traffic lights on Highway 99, reducing highway closure times, enhancing regional transit and finding better ways to communicate parking and congestion issues to commuters ahead of time could all help ease highway backups.

More recommendations will come to council after the community forum.

After the presentation, there was talk at the council table about the importance of regional transit.

"It seems to me that the link to Pemberton is critical, and I think that the intention of Squamish is to focus their attention on Vancouver, so I'd sure like to see us increase our service to Pemberton as a priority," said Coun. Jack Crompton.

Coun. John Grills took it one town further, asking if Mt. Currie could also be included in regional transit discussions.

"I know we've been talking about trying to incorporate them into a better transit setup," he said.

The RMOW's 2016-2020 Five-Year Financial Plan includes a budget of $120,000 for traffic studies to support TAG in 2016, with another $80,000 expected for 2017.