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Yosemite responds to traffic congestion issues

After a social media post left many in the Mountain Area vexed over traffic delays in Yosemite National Park, a spokesman responded he understands the public’s concerns, but noted congestion is always an issue during the busy summer season.

What sparked irritation was a bus lane implemented May 14 on South Side Drive, which leads from Bridalveil Falls - about two miles east of Tunnel View - to the highly popular Yosemite Valley, including Yosemite Village some five miles away.

Only buses and emergency vehicles are allowed in the lane, with a $175 fine for any others who are caught using it. Some people visiting the park said they were backed up for more than two hours on that five-mile stretch of road, while they stared at the mostly-unused bus lane.

Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman said the strategy has been used at intermittent times in past years, depending on the volume of attendance each day. Weekends are the most often times the bus lane is established, Gediman said.

He said the goal is to allow tour buses, the public Yosemite Area Regional Transport System (YARTS) and others to drop off passengers and leave the area which can reduce overall vehicle traffic, as well as provide quick access for emergency vehicles when needed during busy periods.

“The one thing we strive to do is be as flexible and adaptive to the situation as we can,” Gediman said. “Generally, we’ve been using the lane mostly on Saturdays and a little bit on Sundays. But the past few weekends have been incredibly busy so we’ve been using it then.”

Gediman said as attendance increases, particularly on holiday weekends like Memorial Day, the major issue that causes congestion in Yosemite Valley is a lack of parking spaces.

“Even if both lanes were open to all drivers, and there’s no parking, the situation with traffic delays wouldn’t change at all,” said Gediman, estimating there were around 1,000 parking spaces in the valley.

According to a parking inventory report from 2013, Yosemite Valley contained 2,337 day use parking spaces.

Gediman suggested the best times to ensure timely arrival to Yosemite Valley were by 9 a.m. weekend mornings, before most guests begin to arrive, or around 3 p.m. as visitors start to leave for the evening.

Another contention was that the park service established the bus lane as a way to force people into using YARTS. Gediman said that claim was false.

“It’s almost like you’re going to a concert or a football game,” Gediman. “We do our best to get people parked and out enjoying Yosemite, sort of how a concert wants you out of your car and enjoying the show. People are here to hike on the trails, enjoy the river, and all sorts of other things, so we don’t want to keep them stuck in their vehicles or on a bus.”

Instead, Gediman said park rangers and staff on traffic control use indicators like entrance numbers at Yosemite’s gates before deciding whether the lane is necessary for the day.

He added the park does regularly encourage people to use the YARTS system, which provides public transit into Yosemite from Fresno, Merced, Sonora, Mammoth Lakes, and areas along those park entry routes such as Coarsegold and Oakhurst. YARTS can be called at (209) 388-9589, or visited online at www.yarts.com. An estimated 100,000 people use the YARTS service each year, while Yosemite National Park welcomes around four million annual visitors.

Yosemite Valley has often been a source for congestion, Gediman said, as it combines the traffic from highways 41, 120, and 140.

Details: Yosemite National Park, (209) 372-0200, dial 3 then 5.

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