TIME TO BAN CARS

Ripon Bulletin - - Front Page - DEN­NIS WY­ATT

Yosemite Val­ley needs to go car-less to save ex­pe­ri­ence

It’s time to save Yosemite from us. Last year a record 5.03 mil­lion peo­ple vis­ited the park, up sharply from the pre­vi­ous high of 4.15 mil­lion in 2015. Judg­ing by a trip to Yosemite Val­ley on Satur­day, this year could have been worse if it wasn’t for three of the park’s four en­trances hav­ing ex­tended clo­sures due to the weather or land­slides.

I stay out of the val­ley un­less it’s be­tween Novem­ber and April and then it’s so I can hike a trail out of the floor to the rim. On Satur­day I took my grand­daugh­ter Kate­lyn and her friend Dawn who had never been to Yos­meite. While it wasn’t the worst traf­fic by far I’ve en­coun­tered in Yosemite, it still stunned me given it is the wan­ing days of Septem­ber.

Be­sides the usual val­ley traf­fic jams and a scarcity of park­ing spa­ces ap­proach­ing what you ex­pe­ri­ence at Union Square in San Fran­cisco the week­end be­fore Christ­mas, there’s the Glacier Point chal­lenge. Rangers di­vert cars off Glacier Point Road at the Badge Pass Ski area and split them into three lines for an hour wait so 20 cars at a time can be re­leased to travel to Glacier Point.

I’m not against 5.03 mil­lion an­nual vis­i­tors to Yosemite, of which nearly 75 per­cent visit be­tween May and Oc­to­ber and stay mostly in the val­ley. I’m against how well over 1.5 mil­lion ve­hi­cles a year takes away from the ex­pe­ri­ence and spoils the seren­ity. It is time for Yosemite Val­ley to go car-less. Such a plan would re­quire large-scale park­ing lots else­where given on a heavy day more than 20,000 ve­hi­cles are in Yosemite Na­tional Park that en­com­passes 1,190 square miles with vir­tu­ally all of them in the val­ley that cov­ers 5.94 square miles. That’s 20,000 cars jock­ey­ing for park­ing in an area slightly smaller than the rec­tan­gle cre­ated by Lathrop Road, Main Street, Wood­ward Av­enue, and Air­port Way in Man­teca.

The solution is sim­ple, but not cheap. It would in­volve build­ing mas­sive park­ing lots away from the na­tional park and bus­ing peo­ple in and out who want to visit the val­ley.

Given the size of such park­ing it would make sense for car-to-bus lots to be built along the High­way 99 gate­ways to Yosemite — Man­teca in the north, Merced in the mid­dle, and Fresno in the south. Such a strat­egy would have min­i­mal im­pact on tourism busi­ness along High­way 120 from Man­teca or High­way 41 from Fresno as there are nu­mer­ous non-Yosemite at­trac­tions along the way. High­way 41 out of Merced is a non-is­sue for tourism busi­ness.

And to make sure the losses are at a min­i­mum, bus ser­vice could be of­fered along en­trance high­ways at ma­jor lodg­ing spots and com­mu­ni­ties such as Grov­e­land, Buck Mead­ows, Yosemite Lakes, and oth­ers along High­way 120

Once in the val­ley there is al­ready free shut­tle bus ser­vice around the val­ley and fee-based bus ser­vice to Tuolumne Mead­ows and trail­heads along the way as well as Glacier Point and other ar­eas.

Those with camp­ing per­mits would still be al­lowed to drive into the val­ley. And those whose des­ti­na­tions are in the high coun­try, or in the lower el­e­va­tions out­side of the val­ley, or des­ti­na­tions be­yond Tioga Pass via High­way 120 could still travel by car but would not be al­lowed to ac­cess the val­ley.

It would free up a small bat­tal­ion of park rangers from traf­fic con­trol for re­source man­age­ment. It would vir­tu­ally elim­i­nate an ocean of idling ve­hi­cles stuck in Yosemite Val­ley traf­fic spew­ing pol­lu­tion.

Yosemite Val­ley at less than six square miles should be treated as the world’s most beau­ti­ful pedes­trian mall. Just as many cities have cre­ated car­less ar­eas in their hearts to make ur­ban set­tings more peo­ple friendly and con­ducive to leisure ac­tiv­i­ties the same can and should be done for Yos­meite Val­ley.

Yosemite is unique among na­tional parks and not just be­cause of its grandiose glacier carved main val­ley and groves of gi­ant se­quoias. Most of its vis­i­tors end up in an area that is 3,000th the size of the en­tire park and can get there from three ma­jor high­ways.

One won­ders if John Muir were alive to­day whether he’d be more aghast at what the City of San Fran­cisco did to his beloved Hetch Hetchy Val­ley by putting it in a wa­tery tomb 300 feet deep be­hind O’Shaug­nessey Dam or what the au­to­mo­bile has done to Yosemite Val­ley.

Re­store Hetch Hetchy — the Don Quixote group that’s dream­ing the im­pos­si­ble dream to re­store Hetch Hetchy by fight­ing the un­beat­able foes in the form of the City of San Fran­cisco — in July sent out an email blast quot­ing base­ball great Yogi Berra’s line. “No­body goes there any­more; it’s too crowded.”

While it was likely ut­tered about a hot spot in New York City, it fits what is hap­pen­ing to Yosemite.

This is as much about fu­ture gen­er­a­tions be­ing able to en­joy the park as it is about peo­ple to­day.

You park your car and hoof it — or use the mono­rail and such — when you move around Dis­ney­land. The same should be true for a place that is much more mag­i­cal such as Yosemite.

The prob­lem isn’t the num­ber of peo­ple as it is the num­ber of ve­hi­cles.

It’s time to show we care about Yosemite Val­ley.

And that means creat­ing a car free ex­pe­ri­ence.

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