We’re always encouraging local government agencies to gather facts so they can plan for the future based on reality instead of fear or ideology.
That’s exactly what the Napa County Transportation and Planning Agency did when it studied local traffic patterns by using license plate tracking, cellphone data and surveys of wineries and the county’s 100 largest employers.
The data confirm what a lot of us suspected: Even in October, at the height of the tourist season, most of the people in the cars clogging our roads are not tourists. They’re people who live here, or who work here and commute in because they can’t afford to live here. So the next time you’re stuck in traffic, don’t blame tourism — blame a lack of affordable housing.
Tourists account for only 21 percent of the county’s traffic. Only 9 percent of the traffic is just passing through the county — say, from Lake County to Sonoma County.
One of the most interesting statistics involved traffic in St. Helena. On an average weekday there are 6,450 car trips that start and end in St. Helena. Compare that to 2,062 in Calistoga and 870 in Yountville, and it’s obvious that St. Helenans drive around town a lot more than our Upvalley neighbors, for whatever reason.
There’s a link to the study in the online version of this editorial.
We commend the NCTPA for taking a holistic approach. Instead of just counting cars, it tracked them, recognizing that American Canyon’s traffic problems are St. Helena’s traffic problems, too. We’re all in this together.
The NCTPA also deserves credit for introducing new bus routes in 2012 that have doubled ridership. Sure, the buses still aren’t used as much as they should be, but clearly more people are seeing public transportation as a desirable way to get around Napa County.
Since those new routes were already based on solid evidence of what was and wasn’t working, they won’t immediately change because of the study. Over the long term, VINE schedules might be adjusted so there are fewer stops along Highway 29, making buses move faster and therefore be a more attractive alternative to driving.
The NCTPA is already building a park-and-ride near the American Canyon Library, and there might be more to come. Again, the goal is to make it easier to use the VINE to travel Highway 29.
The NCTPA also works with businesses to organize van-pools for employees.
There’s only so much the NCTPA can do with its limited funding. Gas taxes, which support roads, have been flat since 1993.
However, the traffic study was fiscally smart, since local officials can use it to guide their transportation policies for years, ensuring that taxpayer-funded projects are based on facts. The study cost $220,000, with some help from the county, the Napa Valley Vintners and the Winegrowers of Napa County.
There’s no simple solution to ending Highway 29 gridlock, but St. Helenans can still do their part. So we’re closing with a challenge: We’re urging everyone in town to walk and ride their bikes more often, and to ride the St. Helena Shuttle at least once.
Ever since 2012 the Shuttle has operated on demand instead of on a fixed route — except for 7:50-8:21 a.m. and 3:15-4:05 p.m., when it coordinates with bell schedules at local schools.
You can get a ride anytime from 7:45 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 7:45 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday or noon to 7 p.m. Sunday. The bus can meet you almost anywhere you want within the city limits, with an average response time of 15 to 30 minutes.
So the next time you’re planning to drive downtown, consider calling the Shuttle at 963-3007, scheduling a pickup, and forking over a measly dollar for a fare, or 50 cents for youth 6-18, seniors 65 and over, or the disabled.
Uber can’t compete with those prices.