Opinion: Tahoe’s environment depends on fewer cars


By Joanne Marchetta

In a year chock-full of positive milestones for the Lake Tahoe Basin, one accomplishment that stands out is the community’s collective drive to create a walkable, bikeable Lake Tahoe. Even while a cold blanket of snow covers miles of Lake Tahoe’s bike trails and paths, significant preparations continue for expanding the bike and pedestrian network throughout the region.

With about 130 miles of the network already built, there have been major improvements to mobility. But with a need for more than 250 miles of facilities to complete the network, seeing it through will take a commitment to change, a willingness to invest resources, and belief in the substantial, across-the-board benefits that will come from it.

Joanne Marchetta

Joanne Marchetta

The terms walkability and bikeability have become part of the vernacular for environmental restoration here at Tahoe because of the clear connection between our reliance on the private automobile and the health of Lake Tahoe’s air and water. More than 50 percent of the nitrogen entering Lake Tahoe every day is coming from local sources of emissions. However, many communities are finding out that these investments more than pay for themselves economically as well as in the health and well-being of their citizens.

Tahoe has its own environmental and economic arguments to make for increased walking and biking, but nationally and globally, the facts and new research are compelling. Communities like Portland that have been investing in walkability and better urban design for decades have experienced measurable economic benefits. In the 1970s, Portland established an urban growth boundary much like Tahoe did, but it also began building “skinny” streets and over 30 years invested $60 million on bike facilities — an amount that could easily be swallowed by just one freeway improvement project.

In an age when communities are competing to attract entrepreneurs and an intelligent work force, young, college educated people are moving to Portland at a rate five times higher than the national average. Attracting this segment of the population is needed here in Tahoe because Census data over the last 30 years shows a 13 percent decrease in people ages 20-45. In tourism-dependent Lake Tahoe, bicycling can also play a much larger role in our economy. The Lake Tahoe Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan estimates that bike recreation already brings between $6 million and $23 million per year in local direct expenditures.

According to Jeff Speck, city planner and author of “Walkable City”, new research is discovering more linkages between walkability and human health than were known before. A study of San Diego neighborhoods found that the likelihood of obesity decreased 25 percent in more walkable neighborhoods. It’s also no secret that air pollution is unhealthy, but across America today, the rate of vehicle travel is being used as a predictor of the population of people with asthma and asthmatic deaths have increased three times since the 1990s. Most of that increase is coming from car exhaust.

Here in Tahoe, since much of our infrastructure and town centers were originally designed around the private automobile, a total transformation won’t happen overnight, but it is year-by-year one mile of trail at a time. Updating the design of transportation in our communities takes more than one organization or agency can deliver, it takes commitment and vision and, as always, there is a place for you to jump in and take part.

A partnership of three local governments on the South Shore have joined forces and are meeting with citizens to design a multi-jurisdiction recreation and trails master plan. Public workshops were in December and a draft of the plan and capital investment strategy are scheduled to be released next year. No matter where you live, bike and pedestrian facilities are being designed and planned. Find out about them, weigh in on them and show your support.

Early next year, the TRPA transportation team will open applications for the On Our Way Community Grant Program. We will begin inviting community members, organized groups, and local governments to use the grants to develop and evaluate localized concepts like streetscape improvements, pedestrian promenades, and simple safety upgrades for pedestrians and bicyclists. The program will be funded through the Tahoe Metropolitan Planning Organization, a special designation which TRPA received from Congress more than a decade ago. Find out more online.

Making Tahoe more walkable and bikeable is a cornerstone of the updated Regional Plan. TRPA remains committed to working collaboratively with you and other organizations to make this vision a reality.

Joanne Marchetta is the executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.


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Comments (46)
  1. Chief Slowroller says - Posted: December 17, 2013

    this Lady is full of Cr*P.

    just like Jim Jones – just drink the cool aid!

    $ 10.00 says she does not walk around the Town.

    $ 50.00 says she never rides a bicycle

    She is only pushing her agenda to make Lake Tahoe the Land of the Rich

  2. John A says - Posted: December 17, 2013

    How can you even attempt to address the concept of “Tahoe’s environment depends on fewer cars” and a “Walkable City” when your agency is quietly condoning so many hundreds of acres of new recreational development projects and lodging around and on the Lake ?
    Are we missing something – or will these huge corporate recreational developments actually be inviting thousands of more visitors and vehicles into Lake Tahoe each year ?
    Could you please come clean and admit to the numerous corporate recreational acreage development projects incorporated into the 2012 RPU ?

  3. Kody says - Posted: December 17, 2013

    1. If biking is truly to be an alternative option, where are the requirements for snow removal and safe winter bike travel? If biking is used to claim less driving from the 1,000’s of new units the RPU approved, then what about the winter months? I don’t have studded snow tires for my bike. Doubt the tourists do either.
    2. John A has it right. 320 acres of new resort development in the 2012 RPU and now, Northstar wants another 112 acres converted – check out the packet for the TRPA GB meeting TOMORROW. Of course, a last minute change shared with the public just one month before the RPU was adopted made it very easy to get another 320 acres of undeveloped land converted to resort recreation before 2017 without much scrutiny by the agencies. Now we see the first half although it was easy to predict last year. What’s next? Ask TRPA, though, and the RPU was FULLY vetted through a years-long public process.
    3. Fewer cars would help Tahoe. Agreed. But the RPU will bring more cars to Tahoe. This is OK by TRPA because each person may drive a bit less. But there will still be more cars driving on our roads.
    Enough with the snow jobs, please.

  4. Inyo tree says - Posted: December 18, 2013

    read Darren Alfs book on Winter Cycling, and quit your bitching cody..

  5. John A says - Posted: December 18, 2013

    Chief Slowroller,

    Dissimilar to this case,
    You have to at least give Jim Jones (some) credit for living and dieing by the same Kool Aid he prescribed for others…….

    We should do a Study and EIS of how many TRPA Staff and Board Members are car-pooling to work using Toyota Priuses……….and how many of them live in the same town they attempt to govern.

  6. Dogula says - Posted: December 18, 2013

    John A: Jim Jones did not drink the Kool Aid. He was a coward. He died from a gun shot wound to the head.

  7. John A says - Posted: December 18, 2013

    Dogula, yea that’s right. thanks for pointing that out.
    Can we at least give him ten points for having one of his staff take him out ?

  8. TeaTotal says - Posted: December 18, 2013

    Dogula-you can obviously never be called a coward by those standards then

  9. Atomic says - Posted: December 18, 2013

    The local economy is depressed. If TRPA wants to allow more commercial development in core areas then they need to require walkway and bike trails as part of these projects. Maybe they need to REQUIRE these projects actually FUND bike and walkway paths in the communities they are impacting. Upgrading the poor infrastructure is a necessity to attract educated residents. More bike paths, more bike paths, more bike paths. I don’t think these two goals are mutually exclusive.

  10. tahoe Pizza Eater says - Posted: December 18, 2013

    I can’t agree or disagree here. We can’t do things that ignore vacationers that like their cars. That’s still a class of people who spend money in businesses here. We can promote all tourist needs, and we should. I don’t think our little economy can be picky about what tourists we choose to attract. So don’t discourage the car lovers. We need them to come too.

  11. Garry Bowen says - Posted: December 18, 2013

    As someone who’s advocated cycling here for at least 15 years – it is not about “less cars” as much as it’s about “less driving”, as visitors still have to be able to get here absent other forms of transportation. . .

    As to Portland,OR, now @ 8% of the population riding their bikes to work daily, coinciding with a great transit system, I’ve said many times over the years that had the same amount of money as what built the (former) Embassy Suites been spent on a bike-trail network, we would not be having the visitor deficiency we now have, with a corresponding need for less air quality regulations. . .

    As they say in Montreal, after over 450 miles of bike trails in 35 years, it’s “not just sport, it’s transport”. . . more inspiration is necessary, as it seems that only if an agency tells it, can it be so…

  12. Hiker412 says - Posted: December 18, 2013

    Part of the issue pointed out above is TRPA is allowing thousands more residents and who knows how many more visitors to come here by allowing the major new resorts and buildings in the RPU. However, to claim fewer new cars from all of the new people in the environmental study, a percent of the new cars were ‘discounted’ by saying a certain percent of people will commute on bikes. Those numbers are a stretch even in the summer. But, it’s an even farther stretch in the winter. Maybe we can provide each new resident and tourist a copy of this book Inyo Tree mentions? Hey, let’s add that as mitigation in TRPA’s study!

    Atomic and Pizza eater, you both have good points. But TRPA’s message about fewer cars would go much further if TRPA had not approved a Plan that will draw thousands more cars to Tahoe.

    By the way, there are some TRPA staffers who do ride their bikes to work just about every day. So, just keep in mind this month’s blend of Koolaid (frankly every month’s blend) comes from the top, not staff.

  13. Moral Hazard says - Posted: December 18, 2013

    Hiker412, then you agree that the bike paths are a waste of money from a transportation perspective?

  14. bronco billy says - Posted: December 18, 2013

    aldous had his wife dose him on his deathbed, opening wide the doors of perception…

  15. dumbfounded says - Posted: December 18, 2013

    If there was any consistency to the TRPA as regards reducing VMT, there might be a point. They have successfully damaged public transportation options in the past, airline service for instance, with nonsensical arbitrary limits. At the same time, they approved various plan pieces that will guarantee increased traffic by increasing commercial resort property. The message is changing but the damage has been done.

    BTW, not everyone can ride a bike everywhere, especially in winter. Although I applaud efforts in other cities, how much snow does Portland get a year?

  16. PerryRObray says - Posted: December 18, 2013

    Bicycle friendly and walkable communities are great, and much progress has been made the last few years for effectively and efficiently getting around without an auto, BUT, where is the emphasis on the unneeded pollution caused by permanent, immovable objects such as buildings? Supposedly around half the energy consumed in this country is by buildings. I see very little emphasis on nonpolluting designs such as PASSIVE SOLAR. Vail resorts seemingly sees the validity of passive solar at Heavenly (Tamarack lodge) and Northstar (similar to Tamarack’s design). with newer structures.

  17. Jack Durst says - Posted: December 18, 2013

    As a lifelong Tahoe pedestrian I applaud their efforts to make Tahoe more pedestrian friendly; but we must acknowledge that a lot of the simple things we could do aren’t getting done. Most anywhere else you can walk on a continuous sidewalk to your destination…

    Have you ever tried to walk US 50 from Pioneer Trail to Kingsbury Grade? You have to cross 3 times to stay on the sidewalk in what’s supposed to be the main tourist part of town. We shouldn’t call ourselves “walkable” until pedestrians can get where they’re going in the winter without having to catch a bus or disappear off some trail tourists would never know about.

  18. A.B. says - Posted: December 18, 2013

    I have long been an advocate of limiting vehicular traffic travelling into the basin, but reality dictates that will never happen.

  19. John S says - Posted: December 18, 2013

    Joanne — You want fewer cars. Implement better public transportation.

    You want less nitrogen in the Lake…scale back some of the golf courses and grass in the area.

  20. sunriser2 says - Posted: December 18, 2013

    How did the number of car trips in the basin go up when visitors are down dramatically because of Indian gaming?

    The war on cars is getting old. Until bikes sprout wings we need them to get people to our town.

  21. Shenja says - Posted: December 18, 2013

    Until these “plans” include providing at least one bus or van that connects Meyers to the transportations system at south shore… I think it’s all a waste of time and money! But at least we have nice bike paths that go nowhere with no one using them!

  22. John A says - Posted: December 18, 2013

    I think Joanne’s implication that enhanced pedestrian and bicycle connectivity at Tahoe will help the environment is utterly absurd.
    Yes it might be a small benefit for a few locals, but this form of transportation is environmentally “insignificant” in comparison to the tourist/visitor vehicular traffic we have now, let alone what TRPA is condoning in the 2012 RPU.
    We need to take back decision making for our community projects from TRPA and return it to our own local County Government who represents us.
    TRPA has become experts in “selling” their programs which are designed specifically to enhance their own longevity,importance and agency revenue.
    Both TRPA Staff and The Board are truly a bunch of self serving Aristocrats who could care less about Tahoe’s local community economics or well being.
    I invite all of you to go to the Board meetings to experience this arrogance for yourselves.

  23. tahoe Pizza Eater says - Posted: December 19, 2013

    John A. I agree with you, except your use of the words, “could care less” Your intent is to say, “couldn’t care less” . A person that “could care less” possesses an amount of caring, that could be very little, or could care greatly. A person that couldn’t care less is a person that cares so little, they couldn’t care less. Think about it. Somewhere the public has incorrectly changed this phrase. Most people now use the form you have chosen, despite it being incorrect. The TRPA couldn’t care less.

  24. TeaTotal says - Posted: December 19, 2013

    I could probably care less about what some self described ‘smart person’ and phony legal expert has to say about the issues-but I don’t know how that would be possible

  25. hikerchick says - Posted: December 19, 2013

    Much of what people are saying here about the RPU is what Laurel Ames and the Sierra Club are saying.

    Further note on grammar: Fewer cars rather than less cars. Sounds better, doesn’t it?

  26. Ryan Payne says - Posted: December 19, 2013

    It is time to think outside the box!!!

    A MONORAIL needs to be considered… why?

    Tourists would park in Meyers (or the casinos) and leave their car behind.

    Wake up, people!!! The future is what we make of it!

  27. Ryan Payne says - Posted: December 19, 2013

    We can fully utilize the ‘suicide lane’ on Hwy. 50 with an elevated MONORAIL!!!

    Proposed stops:
    the “Y”
    Lakeview Commons
    Ski Run Marina

    ….and an express route between Meyers and the casinos via Pioneer Trail.

    P.S. no snow removal would be required with a pitched, heated track.

  28. Dogula says - Posted: December 19, 2013

    Actually, that’s a great idea, Ryan. Now how would we pay for it?

  29. Ryan Payne says - Posted: December 19, 2013

    Naysayers BEWARE!!!

    Where there is a will, there is a way, Dogula.

    Tomorrow starts today.

    Are you going to choose to be proactive or reactive?

    FYI, it is possible to acknowledge problems, while focussing on the solutions. It just requires commitment.

    To answer your question more directly, this is a public issue which requires a government solution. In other words, that is not up to me to decide…

    I learned from the debate about the HOLE at Stateline that the idea of an OUTDOOR EVENT CENTER was DOA since the public was no longer involved in the decision-making. If only the private parties involved could have seen past their own shortsighted vision and realized what it would have done for this community.

  30. John A says - Posted: December 19, 2013

    Heck , If all our Federal and State Employees at Tahoe were required to car-pool and take buses to work – the roadways would be virtually deserted.

    Problem Solved ! ……….

  31. dumbfounded says - Posted: December 19, 2013

    Did everyone get their copy of the new paper? The TRPA-sponsored “Tahoe in Depth”?

  32. John A says - Posted: December 19, 2013

    Yes. And perfect timing. I used half of it to light a fire in my fireplace this evening …..
    The other half I spread out on the floor where the cat steps out of his litter box.

  33. careaboutthecommunity says - Posted: December 19, 2013

    I received the paper the other day. Please don’t cut anymore trees, I threw it away. If I’m interested, I will read the local news or go to TRPA’s website, I do not become interested just because it gets mailed to me. It just looks bad on their part to be sending out unsolicited paper products, when they are suppose to be an environmental minded agency.

  34. dumbfounded says - Posted: December 20, 2013

    John A, and care: exactly.

  35. John A says - Posted: December 20, 2013

    Realizing that many do read these forums I would like state that I do believe the TRPA is a necessary entity for protection of Lake Tahoe. ( lately self-motivated but necessary ) I love this lake too.

    There are some who work for this agency that really do a great job and intentionally make decisions that they feel will improve the lake’s quality. They are the ones who also share a community interest because they live here. They are conscious of many other Tahoe folks who do not have a government job and have different agendas and perspectives. They make decisions with concern of the impact on local communities in balance with their mission to protect Lake Tahoe.

    To these TRPA employees – you have my sincere apology that I have seemingly lumped you into my generalized ridicule of your agency.

    Merry Christmas !

  36. rock4tahoe says - Posted: December 21, 2013

    What a lot of whining, starting with “Chief Roller” who probably looses both of his “bets.”

    First, Joanne is a Lawyer with a Degree in Forestry and bicycles are a growing mode of transportation worldwide. In 1970 bike and car production stood at about 25 million units, but by 2007, bicycle production reached over 130 million units while cars reached a bit over 52 million units.

    Second, Winters are going away in Tahoe along with Glaciers, the Greenland Ice Sheets and the Polar Ice cap. In 50 years from now, there will be plenty of time to ride a bike in Lake Tahoe. However, the Lake will have a much lower rim.

    Fact. When the fresh water Ice Sheets of Greenland melt, the oceans will rise about 20 feet. When the fresh water ice sheets of Antarctica melt, oceans will rise by another 200 feet. The good news is that Lake Tahoe will become an oasis of fresh water in a world of salt water.

  37. Ryan Payne says - Posted: December 22, 2013

    Do you think Tahoe will have a MONORAIL by then? ;P

  38. John A says - Posted: December 23, 2013

    I have to laugh at your assumptions rock4tahoe.
    Can you point to a link that backs up your remarkable theory of our future for Tahoe ?
    I heard this from another TRPA employee recently so I’m assuming you got those “facts” there ?
    And, I’m still keeping my bets with Chief Slowroller…..

  39. worldcycle says - Posted: December 23, 2013

    I am doubling down with Slowroller and adding another $100 that Joanne has never taken the local transportation here for anything other than a photo op. Never mind to actually go some where and accomplish a daily task.

  40. rock4tahoe says - Posted: December 23, 2013

    Hey JohnA, It’s a known fact. Glaciers worldwide are disappearing… quickly. Greenland is loosing 47 cubic miles of ice per year. They monitor the ice sheets using little scientific things called satellites and lasers; something you haven’t heard of the 18th Century. November 2013 was the hottest November ever recorded worldwide. But what do you care anyway John, you get your information from the same folks that said cigarettes were safe to smoke in the 1960’s.

    You want to actually see the glaciers melting… ok

    knock yourself out.

  41. John A says - Posted: December 23, 2013

    Hey rock4, Although I too believe in global warming and have seen evidence up close for myself – I don’t think it’s so progressive that you or I are gonna be riding bicycles at Tahoe year round in our lifetime.
    Bicycle travel isn’t gonna replace basic transportation for people’s basic needs or performing business etc. It’s always been for enjoyment and exercise typically and for the very few who do ride to work seasonally.
    The trend is people are getting lazier and fatter and living on their Iphones all day. The future for transportation is going to mass transit and pollution free vehicles running on renewable energy.
    Individualism in vehicle travel is going to be a thing of the past.
    So lets drop the glorification of bicycles becoming our main source of transportation and put it in perspective. Bicycle riding is 90% recreational ….

  42. worldcycle says - Posted: December 24, 2013

    John and might I add all the other anti-cyclists out there (including even those that say great for recreation and fitness, but no thanks, not feasible here) Time to rethink. You all have been suffering from a rectal cranial inversion. Time to pull it out and smell the fresh air and clear your heads. The majority of the world DOES use bicycles for daily transportation and work needs. Specially designed bicycles perform every duty imaginable world wide and year round. We here in South Lake Tahoe may have the small inconvenient of snow at certain times of the year, yet we also enjoy one of the greatest and with planning the best cycling communities in America. South Lake Tahoe is somewhat of a flood/moraine delta type area. Very few real hills, great connecting roads (although sometimes narrow) and potential to build Bike Boulevards that will connect every neighborhood without being on the roads. I ride a single speed almost everywhere and have no problem towing a trailer to do my business needs around town. If you even got on a bike to experience the “90%” recreational you spoke of, you would see the potential of a 50% utilitarian and hey, just for the fun of it a 50% recreational aspect of it. For example, I live off of Black Bart and I can go do my shopping at Safeway by bike or by car. Timed many times by GPS, watch and competing with my neighbors by car, it takes me about 2 minutes longer to go there and back by bike. I also had a huge smile on my face because I was out enjoying the day.. (Hey, throw in a stop at the post office and I actually am faster than doing it by automobile)

    To be completely honest, I could give a crap about the “global warming/carbon footprint thing” I am just out having a good time doing what makes the most sense and being the most efficient at doing what needs to be done.

  43. rock4tahoe says - Posted: December 24, 2013

    Sorry World, but you lost me with your don’t care about global warming skit. Perhaps you might be interested in Equatorial diseases making their way North (and South) due to rising temperatures? How about salt water replacing fresh water due to encroachment? Ok, how about cool places to visit in Hawaii that will be underwater? Nope? Yeah, the Earth will be toast in 5-6 Billion years anyway when the Sun flares out so who cares… right?

  44. John A says - Posted: December 25, 2013

    Worldcycle, Thanks for pointing out my problem ( RC Inversion). I had been wondering what I’ve been suffering from. I think we used to insult each other using those terms when I was a child in elementary school.
    No, I’m not anti cyclist in any way. I occasionally ride my mtn bike in the summer too. Prefer the hiking I do with a daypack to get away from exhaust fumes and enjoy nature photography. To each their own.
    I was mearly trying to put into perspective the genuine functionality of bicycle travel versus vehicle transportation.
    But you’re welcome to the last word here, I’m happy to move on to more important discussions regarding our community.
    Happy Holidays !

  45. spt says - Posted: December 31, 2013

    TRPA is doing the right thing by pushing for more bike and pedestrian trails. I only hope they push even harder. There will always be people that complain, but after they are built, EVERYONE enjoys pedestrian and bicycle friendly places more than car-friendly places. Think of the great ski towns of Europe and North America… easy to get around downtowns not filled with highways (aka US 50). Please keep going in this direction TRPA, and let’s make South Lake Tahoe one of the greatest ski towns in the world. Once you build it, they will come… and they will love it.

  46. Joby says - Posted: January 6, 2014

    Comparing Tahoe to Portland, is like comparing Apples to Oranges. Rain vs Snow, icy roads for up to seven months vs wet roads. There is no doubt that climate change is taking place. Global Warming has become myth as noted by science. The trends of climate change have taken place for millions/billions of years. Thinking that folks are going to bike to work or school from November through April is a pipe dream. Believing tourists are going to park in Myers and use public transportation is yet another pipe dream. Cities with the most advanced subway and public transportation systems are still locked up with traffic. Our goals and visions should be based upon improving infrastructure, like antiquated sewers lines, drainage systems and improving our public transportation so it is somewhat functional. Utilizing a limited amount of public funds solely on bike trails is ridiculous.