Blair Picard: Tourism discussion ‘terrific, enlightening’
“Tourism impacts” sounds like NIMBY. “Vile” sounds like evil. “Bacon and eggs” sounds like “Let them eat cake.”
The recent exchange of letters and viewpoints on these pages regarding population growth and growth of tourism is terrific and enlightening. While not necessarily new, these letters and their volume, which should be encouraged and not “shushed,” are telling us something very important is happening in our community. We really are reaching a point of no return on traffic and crowding.
Telling locals to enjoy their environs and to change their schedules to better accommodate the tourists is a band aid. Locals have jobs and trips and families, too. Many of those things cannot be easily rescheduled.
The choke point in our community is obvious — it is the post office interchange. Given our geography, there is no obvious way to ease this problem. The 2003 traffic study made it clear that this intersection is our canary in the coal mine.
The only solution to that problem, and a very partial and expensive one at that, would be to extend the Howelson Hill road to the 13th Street bridge. Given the utilities, parking, recreation and mountainside in the way, that would not only be an expensive fix but likely a very contentious one. But it would divert some traffic away from that intersection.
What we are really faced with as a community is making a decision and making it soon. Do we want to continue to encourage growth both in population and tourism, or do we want to start fashioning some limits?
Our City Council and this newspaper have traditionally been cheerleaders for growth. No criticism, just an observation of fact.
If left unabated, it is likely that during July and August weekends within five years, we will have periodic and regular traffic jams back to Mount Werner Road.
Again, per the 2003 study, parking will of course get more difficult and the next chokepoints, the library interchange and the Elk River Road interchange, will also become more congested and onerous. In addition, with unabated growth, at some point the highway beyond Elk River Road will become an extension of downtown with lower speed limits and more congestion extending for a few more miles.
All these consequences are desirable or undesirable, depending on your point of view. The point is, rather than just let nature take its way, let’s have the debate right now before it is too late.
The City Council and Planning Commission must acknowledge the direction we are headed and solicit the opinion of the public and declare what our policy moving forward is to be. If we decide to continue our growing ways, or put down some limits to stop or slow this congestion, so be it.
There are obviously many opinions across the spectrum. But to not realize that the time for a decision is upon us risks having an unsolvable mess in the not too distant future.
So let’s have the debate and make a decision. Not having the discussion and doing nothing is too big a risk. At least we will have tried to control our destiny, and we will all have had to opportunity to impact the decision. Whatever that result is, we will have had our say and hopefully be able to live with it.
And most importantly, we should have this discussion in the friendly Steamboat way. Whatever our opinion, we all care about our community. Personally, for my point of view, I will quote the well-known philosopher, Yogi Berra, who said, “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”
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