This Sunday will be the third time El Dorado County deploys traffic barriers and detour signs in an effort to redirect outbound vehicles from North Upper Truckee Road toward the main highway. And if the first two Sundays are any indication, the traffic ploy appears to be working.
"I think people understand that it's not a final solution but for now it's a temporary way to get people, at least a majority of people, off North Upper Truckee. So that's good, it's working well and … I'm really pleased by it," said El Dorado County Supervisor Sue Novasel, who represents that part of the county.
On March 4, the county put up barriers and detour signs on Lake Tahoe Boulevard at the intersection of Sawmill Road. The signs and barriers direct motorists heading toward Meyers onto Sawmill, without actually closing Lake Tahoe Boulevard — a tactic El Dorado County Director of Transportation Rafael Martinez referred to at a Feb. 28 town hall meeting as "the nudge."
As conceived, the hope was that visitors would take the "detour," which would prevent traffic backups on a residential street.
On the two Sundays the tactic was deployed, the county observed approximately 60 to 70 percent effectiveness, according to Martinez.
The county reached that number, which Martinez said he feels is an accurate measurement, by having road crew employees take 15 minute breaks during their normal shifts and observe traffic. The observations are made at different times throughout the day to provide what Martinez called a snapshot. Additionally, a county engineer lives in the area and has observed consistent use of the "detour."
Martinez notes that this pilot program is not an actual traffic survey, adding that the county has no way of knowing if the 30-40 percent of cars going through the opening in the barriers are locals.
"For the most part it seems that the people who are making the left turn are the visitors into the area because they're proceeding with the detour," he said.
Regardless, Martinez sees the pilot program as a success, albeit far from an actual solution for the larger traffic problems plaguing Meyers — an area where many residents commonly note that they do not leave their homes on Sunday.
"Any number, even it was 30 percent or 20 percent vehicular volume that would be removed from going through North Upper Truckee where there's lot more residential community, to me, is a benefit," said Martinez.
Susanne Bull, a Meyers resident who lives off North Upper Truckee beyond the intersection where the barriers are placed, said she has noticed fewer cars coming down North Upper Truckee.
"It's been great," she said, before adding a caveat that is somewhat reflective of the larger problem.
Bull wondered if the county could move the barriers and signs closer to South Lake Tahoe by the intersection at South Tahoe High School, which would redirect motorists onto D Street. The thought came about after a conversation Bull had with a girlfriend who lives off Sawmill.
That intersection falls within the city of South Lake Tahoe and, further, D Street travels through a densely populated residential area.
Bull's remark gets to the larger overall problem of too many cars trying to exit town on roads that were not built for the traffic volume — a huge problem that requires an equally huge solution.
While that problem and its many intricacies will likely take years to start unpacking and solving, the county, according to Martinez, continues to explore other means to keep traffic off residential streets.
The county is starting to analyze if there are other locations where "the nudge" makes sense. There are quite a few variables that go into that decision (as of Thursday there were no other definite locations), but Martinez said he hopes to have up to two additional locations added by Novasel's next town hall on the issue in April — an exact date has not been set.
In the meantime, the county plans on using the barriers and signs at Sawmill on Sundays at least for the rest of ski season, and at other busy times of year including Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.
"I think our staff is doing an excellent job of addressing the issues," Novasel said.