This summer we spent several weeks vacationing in Chamonix, France, a “tourist town” on the slopes of 15,800-foot Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain.
Chamonix attracts visitors in both winter (skiing) and summer (hiking, biking and more). We were impressed by the way it handled the huge influx of tourists. During the booming summer season, the town’s population grows from 10,000 to 100,000; thus, it confronts problems similar to the ones we face here. But visitors to Chamonix enjoy a quite different experience than ours have: their town center is pedestrianized. Tourists (and locals) enjoy wandering the tranquil streets, stopping at a cafe and shopping without having to dodge cars and trucks. Traffic is routed away from the center and parking is available in several peripheral lots, with the number of spaces in each indicated on electronic signs. In Chamonix, visitors pay two euros for a pass that entitles them to ride local buses or trains free for as many days as they like, so most visitors don’t need a car.
Is there any hope that we might adopt some of Chamonix’s approach to tourism? I think so, and I want to sketch out how it might happen.
First, we too could pedestrianize our city center, but only if we can re-route traffic on Highway 191 away from Main Street.
It could be accomplished as follows: Divert traffic southbound toward Moab onto state Route 279 (Potash Road), eventually widened to four lanes. Where 279 reaches the Portal, a new bridge could carry traffic across the Colorado River onto Kane Creek Boulevard, and from there up to the intersection with Highway 191, where it would continue in the current pattern. Northbound traffic would divert onto Kane Creek here as well. Since all through-traffic would now be routed away from Moab’s city center, the latter easily could be pedestrianized (Main Street from 200 South to 200 North and Center Street between 100 West and 100 East) by routing cars onto 100 West and establishing parking lots there. Eventually, we could offer free shuttle transportation from local hotels out to Arches, where visitors would board another shuttle at the Visitors’ Center to deliver them to popular destinations all the way to Devil’s Garden. The shuttles could be subsidized by diverting some of the controversial Transient Room Tax from advertising and into a real service for our visitors. Traffic jams in and around town would disappear; nearly everyone would love the now attractive pedestrianized town center, and could leave their cars in the new lots on 100 West.
Yes, I know, some readers will point out that the fairly few residents, businesses and churches along Kane Creek Boulevard would not like the bypass. But those people could – and should – be generously compensated.
In any case, the current traffic situation is already bad and will become intolerable unless traffic is diverted around the city, and the alternative proposed here is the only feasible one I can envision.