It happens every month. Some like it. Some hate it. Many can't make up their minds. But every month it rolls around like clockwork.
Didn't use to happen, back when maturity was still a distant mirage, shimmering in the desert of longing. Then it happened every once in a while. When it first happened, it seemed to make everyone happy. Now, not so much.
December past won't be an exception. Any day now, there will be an announcement. It happened again in December. Records were broken. Visitation, spending, room nights, restaurant meals, adventurous entertainment... everything. Up, up, up. We built it; they came.
Of course, they had to get here. Then they had to get home again. And that's got more than a few — though perhaps not record numbers — of locals crying for a solution to the automotive conga line that forms north most mornings and south every afternoon. OK, so maybe not every afternoon. But if you live south of the village and happen to have a weekend job that cuts you loose between, say, 3 and 5 p.m., and you're not willing to go hang out at the library or friendly neighbourhood pub for a couple of hours, it's going to feel like it's every afternoon.
The nexus of the problem is pretty simple. The human factor is one of timing. The flight of the lemmings happens over the span of a few, short hours. Everyone wants to get home and home lies in a southerly direction.
The non-human factor is even simpler. Two lanes coming out of Blackcomb Way turn onto two lanes of Highway 99. A short distance later, Village Gate Boulevard vomits out another two lanes of traffic. In both cases, people in those lanes have already negotiated bottlenecks getting out of parking lots and crawling their way to the highway.
So now we've got four lanes of cars merging into two lanes of highway. But only for a couple of hundred metres. Then those four-lane-clogged two lanes funnel into one lane... which is "regulated" by a traffic light a little further south. On snowy days, the hill before Nordic further "regulates" the flow of traffic as another human factor — people who believe winter tires and/or tread is optional — adds an element of comic relief.
But take heart. One lane turns into two lanes shortly before Creekside... where a whole bunch of cars are trying to add their numbers to the highway, a dribble at a time as traffic and the traffic light permits.
Shortly thereafter, two lanes restrict back down to one lane and, finally, at the bottom of the hill at Function Junction, two lanes once again appear like magic. At least for a couple of kilometres.
This highway "design" only makes sense to people who believe if we build more and/or bigger highways we will magically spawn more traffic. Such people have overseen road and highway development in and around Vancouver since there were more horses than cars and I'm fairly certain their ancestors argued wider streets would only lead to more horses.
The logic is irrefutable. Circular and flawed, but irrefutable. If a town builds bigger roads, chances are they are doing so in response to a demand for bigger road. That demand is likely caused by congestion on the existing roads. The only towns that might build way bigger roads than they need are towns being run by people who own concrete plants or road-building companies.
Bigger roads do not, per se, create traffic.
What creates traffic, then?
We do. We entice people to come to Whistler. We beg people to come to Whistler. We've festivalized Whistler. We've animated Whistler. We've built more hotels, more condos, more restaurants, more lifts, more trails, more activities, more shopping, more buzz, more excitement.
What we haven't built more of is roads.
Lest you misconstrue what I've written as a plea for widening Highway 99, let me just say I don't personally care whether it's widened or not. I live north of the village. The only time I lived south of the village I lived close enough to where I pretended to work to be able to walk there and walk to skiing at Creekside. The conga congestion doesn't affect me personally.
But you have to admit, there is a certain weird, even perverse, logic to a roadway that keeps constricting traffic to one lane over and over again. Logic so perverse, in fact, it must be rooted in ideology, because it certainly can't be rooted in anything that makes sense.
But for a sitting council to decide they'd start lobbying the province for more lanes from Function to the village is about as likely as having a sitting council say they were abandoning the bed cap mirage. Ain't gonna happen.
So what can we do?
1. Suck it up. It is and forever shall be written that traffic moves snailish on weekend afternoons.
2. Re-engineer humans. I believe this was at the core of one of the previous TAG reports. Use the power of advertising to keep everyone from leaving at the same time. Should be even easier now that we can have Happy Hours in B.C.
3. Red car, Blue car. Restrict entry past Function to people only driving the right colour car. Just kidding. But like other congested urban centres, even numbered licence plates on even numbered days. Heck, maybe that would be a boon to the auto dealerships as skiers rush out to buy another car so they can have both an even and odd number plated SUV.
4. Mandatory parking south of town with shuttle busses utilizing counterflow lanes. Kinda sounds like the Olympics, doesn't it?
5. Build the long-planned Cheakamus base. Imagine the Cake Hole as a ski-out.
6. Rip out the traffic lights and build roundabouts. A boon to body shops up and down the corridor as North Americans grapple with exactly how they work.
7, 8, 9, 10. All the things that aren't going to happen. Better, cheaper, more frequent busses bringing skiers from the Lower Mainland. Rail service. Increase prices to temper demand. Star Trek transporters.
We built it. They came. We invited the world — I think that was the buzz line for the Olympics. They came. We're a success. Gridlock is the price. Locals may bitch about it but I'm betting almost no one who drives daily in Vancouver's nightmare traffic is too worked up.
We are living the dream as dreamed by the folks who've been making decisions. Maybe they didn't think the dream included snarled traffic. Maybe they did. Maybe they didn't care. Maybe they thought it was the lesser evil. But make no mistake. Tiny Town's traffic problem is way better than having no traffic.
Got snow? Got traffic.