Elected officials authorized an update to the Integrated Transportation Plan, reaffirming their desire to make public transit more competitive with driving and to create an organization to handle regional transportation planning.
The latter was “the most important topic of the day” at a meeting Thursday, according to Jim Charlier, a transportation expert that the town of Jackson and Teton County hired to amend the 5-year-old plan and guide them in carrying out its instructions.
Over the past few months he has interviewed many people in the community, he said, and found it “remarkable” how nearly all agreed that the Integrated Transportation Plan remains Jackson’s Hole’s best bet to reduce congestion and carbon emissions.
But with town and county staff already stretched thin, and with no designated transportation planner to follow through on it, the plan has largely languished since 2015.
“We’re frustrated that the plan hasn’t been implemented, and the reason it hasn’t is we need someone who’s just working on implementing the plan,” Charlier said. “That’s been pretty much a community consensus.”
Another big topic Thursday was the importance of making transit more appealing to people who normally drive. Essentially, to capture that demographic, the fastest way from point A to point B has to be on a bus.
START officials are working to update their routes with this in mind, and Charlier suggested other potential maneuvers. For example, “bus rapid transit” lanes on major thoroughfares like Highway 22 and the Village Road could be reserved for buses when other lanes are clogged, and intersections can be designed to give priority to approaching buses, further reducing travel time.
Charlier has said that it would be a “fool’s game” to widen busy highways with the expectation of reducing congestion — there’s simply so much latent demand, he said, that there will always be new cars to fill the space.
But he said it may be wise to expand certain roads with these bus rapid transit lanes, or with high-occupancy vehicle lanes reserved for cars with at least two — or maybe three — passengers. Such lanes could be reserved only during the heaviest traffic hours.
Charlier also tied transportation into recent discussions among town and county officials about how to address the community’s carbon emissions, which have risen and even outpaced population growth in the past decade.
“If we’re going to do that, we’re going to need a robust transit system,” he said, “and we’re going to need significant increases in ridership.”
Councilor Jim Stanford suggested that even if everyone is on board with the Integrated Transportation Plan in theory, many people will never be convinced to use public transportation rather than drive. He said that “we have large swaths of the community … for whom riding the bus is not something they want to do, nor something they want to pay even for somebody else to do.”
“Everybody’s agreeing with everybody else,” he said, “except when it comes time to actually ride the bus. Transit’s great as long as somebody else is riding it.”
But Charlier still maintains that convenience will win out.
More people will ride the bus, he said, “if you make the service attractive, and just keep making it better and better.”