Monday, February 14, 2011

An Un-Valentine to South Lake Tahoe

I spent last weekend in Lake Tahoe, and while the primary purpose of the trip was skiing, I took advantage of a non-ski day to visit the shopping center about a mile from house where we were staying. Although friends dropped me off at the center, as a self-respecting pedestrian advocate I insisted I could manage the walk back along highway 50, the only route connecting the center and the nearby residential neighborhoods.

And that was my first mistake.

I snapped some pictures so I could share the absurdity with you (and also publicly shame Lake Tahoe's transportation planners). Come along with my as I catalogue the UN-walkability of my journey.

Here's where things started:
So right away you see that there is neither a sidewalk, nor a decent shoulder in place on the road -- despite the fact that this is (again) the only road that pedestrians could travel to access the shopping center. So I guess we have to assume that everyone in this area has a car and can drive?? Also, note that vehicles here have four wide travel lanes--far more space than is necessary to keep up traffic flow in my opinion, as I have never seen congestion in this area even on a holiday weekend. Two travel lanes plus a two-way turn lane would be more than adequate, not to mention safer for everyone.

Undeterred, I continued my trek...until I reached this:

Do you see the problem I'm faced with? Virtually no shoulder, a blind corner, and a clump of trees that would force me to race headlong into speeding traffic in order to keep walking down the street. If I was in a wheelchair, or carting a kid in a stroller, I would have literally been trapped at this point in my journey, but I got creative and hopped down the embankment to wallow through this:

Does this really seem like an appropriate pedestrian path? Especially for someone without boots? Oh, and lest you think it's only wacky ped-heads like me who attempt to walk to the store, along my slog I noted this:

So you see, at least one other person had tried to make the same perilous journey as me.

You would think that things might have gotten better as I approached another small cluster of restaurants across from a residential neighborhood, and indeed there was a crosswalk:

But as you can see, the crossing treatment here is hardly appropriate for a four-lane highway. No median refuge, limited warning signs, and again no sidewalk. With vehicles whipping through at 45 to 55 mph, I had to literally run to make it across the street intact--and I'm a pretty speedy person. The most vulnerable walkers (kids, elderly, the disabled) would never be able to navigate this crossing safely. This crossing is a pedestrian death waiting to happen, and I only hope the powers that be recognize that problem before someone gets killed.

The rest of the walk continued in much the same vein, with me getting angrier and angrier (well, when I wasn't terrified for my life) at the clear slap in the face that this roadway presents to pedestrians. The message from South Lake Tahoe (or perhaps more appropriately Caltrans, who has jurisdiction over this road) is clearly "You can come here for outdoor recreation, but don't even think about walking on our roads. Roads are for cars, and no one else." I guess it's ski slopes or nothing for people who want to get some exercise.


  1. A bit of a non-sequitur I realize, but: I just got back from a 9-day cruise from Baltimore down to Florida and the Bahamas. Two days at sea going and coming. During the first day at sea, as I was wandering around, going from a lecture on the sun, to a "cafe" for tea, to the outdoor decks, to dinner, to the "library," to other quiet places to read...I realized I was quite relaxed not just because floating on the sea is pretty relaxing, but because I could walk all over and there were no motor vehicles other than scooters and wheelchairs. It was very seductive; I'm well aware of the environmental impacts of cruise ships and haven't gone on many cruises, but I can easily see myself doing it again just to be in a pretty livable environment free of cars. I can't help but wonder whether at least some of the other millions who take cruises each year aren't motivated partly, maybe unconsciously, by the same least if I were a cruise line and I wanted to entice people away from South Lake Tahoe onto a boat, I might try a new ad campaign.

  2. Interesting idea. I do note that people often use words like "ease" and "convenience" when describing cruises. On the other hand, cruises differ from more traditional pedestrian environments in their limited demographics--all those "uncomfortable" things you find on a downtown sidewalk don't often show up on a cruise...