While Americans have a love affair with their vehicles, the powers that be in the greater Lake Tahoe area doing all they can to make car keys less of a necessity for locals and guests.
An increase in free transit throughout the region is being designed to be efficient and timely. And for those who prefer human power to get around, the bike/pedestrian trail system is expanding beyond the immediate needs of cleaning up the ravaged terrain created by the 2021 Caldor Fire.
“I think we all understand that transit has to be free and frequent. If you don’t have one of those things, you are not likely to be in consideration,” Carol Chaplin, executive director of the Tahoe Douglas Visitors Authority, said. “Transit success is dependent on dependability. Part of the formula for success is free, frequent and year-round, and then expand service to connect to other services.”
Free is the key
Chaplin’s agency is behind the South Tahoe Events Center, which is slated to open the first quarter of 2023. The operating permit mandates the Stateline facility provide microtransit on both sides of the state line. It will likely go from Round Hill on the Nevada side to Al Tahoe in California. The permit from the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency says the bus service can be seasonal for the first five years, but must be year-round after that.
TDVA isn’t waiting for the center to open to launch the bus service. The fleet could be on the roads starting in late June. To begin with hours are expected to be weekdays from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and weekends until 10 p.m. Expect seasonal changes. Four buses, two of which will be wheelchair accessible, will run at all times. Each bus seats nine to 14 passengers.
It’s not really about getting event attendees to the venue because many of them are expected to stay within walking distance. Instead, these smaller buses are designed to transport locals (and tourists) in a more reliable, efficient manner. Fewer vehicles on the road means less traffic, a reduction in emissions, and less fine sediment clouding the waters of Lake Tahoe.
“I know there are lot of us if we parked our cars at our offices and could take microtransit over to Ski Run for a meeting and get back to the office, we would,” Chaplin said.
While negotiations with Downtowner were ongoing as of press time, Chaplin expects the contract to cost $940,000 a year. This is without marketing dollars. A variety of funding sources are in place and still in the works.
Downtowner is the same company the North Shore uses for its service called TART Connect.
This service, which links with the larger TART bus system, started in June 2021. It, too, is free to ride. The 12 vehicles had 40,000 passengers in the first two months of service, with locals a large contingency.
As with all the bus companies in the Tahoe-Truckee area, the best way to know how to get from Point A to Point B is to go online or download the appropriate app, then use the “trip planner” to start your ride.
The North Shore also changes its hours of operation seasonally, with the spring schedule ending June 29, and summer going from June 30-Sept. 5.
“We are encouraging TART Connect as a way to connect to recreation—bring your bike and stuff for the beach,” said Sara Monson, executive director of the Truckee-North Tahoe Transportation Management Association.
North Shore transit officials are operating with the pandemic in the rearview mirror, which means free shuttles for Truckee Thursdays, as well as Fourth of July events returning.
TART runs from Incline Village on the east side to Tahoma on the west, and then connects to Truckee, as well as to Northstar and Palisades resorts. TART Connect is designed for shorter trips, and then connects to the main bus line.
Truckee will be adding a microtransit pilot program similar to TART Connect starting in late June and running until early September, as well as an on-demand point-to-point service within select areas of town.
The microtransit will allow for connections to the TART system so people can reach areas within the Tahoe basin.
The South Shore microtransit, which still needs a name, will connect to the larger bus service run by the Tahoe Transportation District.
TTD is focusing on finalizing the transit hub at Lake Tahoe Community College, where electric buses will be charged. This fast-charging infrastructure will service the electric buses that are on order. TTD buses remain free as well.
With federal transportation dollars, TTD is looking to expand parking areas mainly in the Spooner Lake area along Highway 28. This would be in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service. It would also involve relocating the boat inspection station.
What still needs to be worked out is how to link the North and South shore bus systems so riders can easily get around the lake.
Improving and increasing trails
The Caldor Fire that ripped through El Dorado County last summer derailed some of the Forest Service’s trail building plans because resources are being reallocated to the South Shore to clean up the scorched earth and make the trails safe. Some work was done last fall before winter set in, but more needs to be done.
“We have some funding for stabilization work on the trials; things like installing drainage features and rebuilding any section of trail that seems at risk of failure,” said Jacob Quinn, engineering technician with the USFS.
Trail failure includes infrastructure like bridges that were damaged, erosion issues, as well as precarious trees.
Caldor issues will be addressed with the help of Tahoe Area Mountain Biking Association and TRPA. About 22 miles of trails sustained some level of damage. The human-caused blaze burned 9,885 acres in the Lake Tahoe Basin, while the entire fire consumed more than 220,000 acres.
All the emergency work is expected to be completed this year, with long-term restoration an ongoing endeavor that will require obtaining the dollars to do the work.
A priority for the USFS is working at Echo Summit where the Tahoe Rim Trail and Pacific Crest Trail overlap, then going to the heavily used Corral Trail, Armstrong Connector Trail and Saxon Creek Trail (aka Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride). Replacing the burned out bridge on Corral Trail will be one of the first projects.
“We have a pretty modern trail system in the basin. There is a lot of design and layout work in those trials to make them sustainable,” Quinn said. “And generally they are well maintained. That all contributes to why the trails are still there in really good shape.”
Completion of the basinwide trails environmental assessment is expected this summer. The document includes 25 miles of new trails, much of which is on the West Shore to fill in gaps in the network. More public comment will be solicited before it’s wrapped up.
The Perimeter Trail near Heavenly Mountain Resort will be a multi-year project. The phase that goes from the midstation of the gondola, northeast around East Peak Lake and connects to the Tahoe Rim Trail is expected to be completed this year. It’s about three miles.
Still needing approval, which could come this summer, is a trail from that same midstation, going south to High Meadows.
It’s called the Perimeter Trail because for eight or nine miles it will loop around Monument Peak. There will also be a new trail connection to Heavenly’s base lodge and Powerline.
The Caldor Fire means the maintenance and reconstruction of the Bayview Trail near Eagle Falls will be scaled back or delayed until next year. The Incline Lake property will include restoration of the creek and meadow this year.
Still on the South Shore, the California Tahoe Conservancy should wrap up all the trail work at Cove East, where the path was relocated as part of the Upper Truckee Marsh restoration project. Pads will also be installed at the end to create lookout areas for people. The work is expected to take place in September, with trail access off-limits for a short time.
The ribbon-cutting for the Dennis T. Machida Memorial Greenway is slated for June 16. The leader of the CTC died unexpectedly at age 58 in 2005. The greenway is a paved path through parts of South Lake Tahoe.
TTD as the lead on multiuse trail that connects the Nevada side will be working on planning the next eight miles of asphalt that goes from Sand Harbor to the junction of highways 50 and 28.
Here are some of the projects Tahoe Area Mountain Biking Association plans to undertake this building season:
- Kaspian Rim—A variation on the Stanford Rock Trail that will connect down toward the Kaspian Campground/Blackwood Canyon sno-park and make for a shorter loop option for those not wanting to go all the way to the top of Stanford Rock. In the future this will help connect single track south toward Homewood and beyond.
- Lower Stinger Reroute—A Nevada OHV grant will help reroute the lower 1.5 miles of the Stinger Trail so it no longer finishes in a neighborhood. Instead it will end at a better developed trailhead off Sewer Plant Road. It will have an additional 300 vertical feet that incorporate lake views and features.
- Lower Tyrolian Reroute—Continuing a reroute of the bottom half mile of Tyrolian that crosses back to the east side of Incline Creek and incorporates some more technical features instead of the flatter pedal among the homes.
- Meeks Ridge Trail—Starting a new trail that will connect from Meeks Bay up to the Lost Lake Trail that will follow the ridge line to the north of Meeks Meadow. The old logging road on this route will be replaced with about four miles of single track and will make for a 10- to 12-mile loop when completed next year.
- Road 73 Bypass—Construction will begin on a single-track option on the North Shore by Tahoe City to avoid Road 73 (Fiberboard Freeway) for those going from Beartrap Connector (No. 17E14) up to Whoop Dee Doo or the Tahoe Rim Trail.
- Tunnel Creek Single Track—Breaking ground on a trail connecting the Incline Flume at Tunnel Creek Road down to the bottom of Tunnel Creek Road. This project is a partnership between Nevada State Parks, Great Basin Institute, Tahoe Fund and a Nevada Recreational Trails Program.
Note: A version of this story first ran in Tahoe In Depth.