As the number of visitors increase during the summer months, the National Park Service is experimenting with different ways to control traffic in the east end of Yosemite Valley. We’d all like to see less congestion, more efficient traffic flow, and a system that allows emergency vehicles to respond to incidents effectively. But what exactly does that mean?
Here is the latest from NPS on what changes to expect when you drive into Yosemite Valley starting May 21, 2012.
In response to increasing amounts of traffic over the past several years, the National Park Service (NPS) will convert one lane of Southside Drive into a bus and emergency vehicle lane to provide for better flow of traffic for shuttle buses, Valley Floor Tour trams, YARTS, commercial tour buses, and emergency vehicles. This pilot traffic management project will run from 9:00 am – 7:00 pm every day starting May 21. NPS will evaluate the effectiveness of this program in June to determine if this bus lane should continue for the rest of the summer.
***What are the main points?***
1. In response to visitor concerns, the National Park Service is testing this traffic management strategy to improve visitor experience and protect park resources.
2. This project will run every day starting May 21.
3. The bus lane will start on Southside Drive just west of El Capitan crossover and continue to the Curry Village four-way intersection. Cars will be required to stay in the left lane. Buses and emergency vehicles will use the right lane. Only the free Yosemite Shuttle buses, Valley Floor Tour trams, YARTS, commercial tour buses, and emergency vehicles may use the bus lane.
4. Yosemite Valley can only accommodate a certain number of cars at one time. This number is often exceeded between the hours of 9:00 am – 7:00 pm during summer months, which causes traffic congestion. Coming before or after this time, or using YARTS, may help visitors avoid some traffic congestion. Visitors are always welcome to drive their cars into the Valley.
5. Converting one lane of Southside Drive to a bus lane will not significantly impact the number of cars entering Yosemite Valley. Traffic can back up along Southside Drive when visitor parking is at capacity. This backup occurs regardless of the number of lanes available for private vehicles.
6. The park will seek long term solutions to traffic concerns through the Merced River Plan.
***What about NPS and concession employees?***
NPS and concessioner employees will need to use the car lane along with visitors when commuting in their personal vehicle. NPS and concession employees will not be able to use the bus lane even if they have an employee sticker on their car window. NPS employees driving a government vehicle will not be able to use the bus lane unless the government vehicle is used for emergency response. Concession employees and vendors will also not be able to use the bus lane except for DNC security vehicles responding to emergencies. Only shuttle buses, Valley Floor Tour trams, YARTS, commercial tour buses, and emergency vehicles are allowed in the bus lane at this time. NPS is committed to re-evaluating this policy in June.
The reason for these actions is that visitors will see what they perceive to be private vehicles in the bus lane and will follow those cars, not knowing that the individual driving the car is an employee. Our ultimate goal is to attain free flowing traffic conditions in the East Valley. The effectiveness of this project, including who has access to the bus lane, will be re-evaluated in June. Thank you for your understanding as we try this new program!
***Where is the bus lane going to occur?***
Signs will be in place starting at the east end of Bridalveil straight to advise traffic of the new lane configuration. All vehicles except buses will be directed to the left lane, reserving the right lane for buses and emergency vehicles. When traffic in the private vehicle lane on Southside Drive backs up near El Capitan crossover, visitor traffic will be diverted at El Capitan crossover. Employees and Valley residents will not be diverted.
***How will closing a lane of traffic to cars on Southside Drive not significantly impact the number of cars entering Yosemite Valley?***
Yosemite Valley roads are a closed system as the Valley has only one way in and one way out. In addition there is a fixed amount of parking within Yosemite Valley. As parking locations fill, traffic slows, and roads become heavy with the arrival of additional visitors. During these peak periods, one lane of traffic can supply enough vehicles to fill available parking. Speeds will slow but traffic can move continuously, allowing visitors to reach their destination including lodging and campgrounds. This set of conditions allows the use of one lane for motorists and one lane for buses to access the Valley. During the heaviest periods of traffic, visitors should anticipate these conditions and plan accordingly as there will be a wait to access the developed areas of east Yosemite Valley.