Jackson Hole faces major transportation challenges driven by an increased number of tourists, new residents, and growing commuter traffic resulting from the local housing shortage. Situated directly next to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks where millions of tourists enjoy the region each year, it’s crucial for gateway communities like Jackson to provide quality transportation options. Many communities with similar dynamics to Jackson are using innovative transportation solutions to improve accessibility, reduce climate pollution, improve visitor experiences, and mitigate impacts on wildlife. This has increased the attractiveness and feasibility of car-free tourism. Let’s take a look at a few innovative ideas other towns have implemented.
Zion National Park in southern Utah is a wonderful example of successfully limiting car-based visitation. Zion launched an extensive shuttle system in partnership with the gateway town of Springdale in 2000, allowing visitors to leave their car outside of the park and travel by bus, shuttle, and by foot to some of the most popular points within the park. Since 2000, visitation rates have increased while traffic has decreased significantly. Visitors are spending more time enjoying the scenery rather than sitting in traffic. Not only does this measure enhance the experience, it also increases pedestrian safety and has eased access for emergency vehicles. The shuttles run on propane which results in lower emissions and less noise pollution for the surrounding ecosystem. The nearby town of Springdale built parking infrastructure close to the shuttle stops, with service every 15 minutes. The parking lots and shuttle stops are close to many retail businesses, groceries, bars, and restaurants. And almost all downtown parking is paid parking – meaning drivers are helping pay for their impact with money going towards the town’s general fund. In a survey of 100 business owners by the National Parks Conservation Association regarding the park shuttle, “Seventy-eight percent of survey respondents said they would recommend a shuttle system to other gateway communities facing similar congestion issues.” With great planning for tourist capacity, the town of Springdale and Zion National Park are offering an easy experience to a stunning park for millions of people.
To our north, Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada has set a gold standard for functional wildlife crossings over roadways. They’ve also implemented other inspirational transportation measures to promote tourism and manage seasonal influxes. This mountain town offers a robust transit system alongside safe pathways for walking and biking. With a single day ticket, a tourist in Banff can visit the shops in the town and take in all the most popular photogenic lakes and mountain peaks – all without driving in traffic or finding parking.
Zion and Banff make it easy for visitors to know their options even before they arrive. Park and tourism websites encourage visitors to leave their cars behind and provide all the information visitors need. Nobody wants to be stuck in traffic or limited to what places they have access to due to transportation. When looking at Banff, trip planning resources include functional maps and thoughtful route-planning. Once in Banff, public transportation draws people in with remodeled bus stops and thoughtful pedestrian signage. Banff is changing visitors’ experience with a robust transportation campaign supported by multiple organizations which mitigates seasonal traffic.
As we’ve seen, other tourism impacted communities are trail–blazing new and cutting-edge transportation ideas. We can draw inspiration from their experiences in solving our own challenges. New solutions for our own roadways include increasing bus service, expanding walkability and bike-ability, and utilizing transportation demand management. We’re making progress already: Local non-profits offer brochures and pathway information for hospitality employees to share, hotels offer shuttles for guests, and the current bus and pathway system are supported by the community and are looking for ways to increase visitor usage.
Jackson Hole may be the next destination to innovate transportation solutions and then provide inspiration for other destination communities in the West.