The parks and their nearby communities — called gateway communities — have a symbiotic relationship. The communities rely heavily on tourist dollars generated by the parks, while the parks depend on local communities to provide visitors with food, lodging and other services.
Though transportation has always been an integral part of park visits, in recent years, congested roadways, overcrowded parking lots and vehicle pollution have all begun to detract from the visitor experience. Gateway communities share many of these same problems, which negatively impact local economies.
Researchers at the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI), in partnership with Cambridge Systematics, Inc., recently completed a National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) project to address these issues.
“The project examines 10 case studies highlighting innovative partnerships among local, state and federal agencies, as well as private groups,” notes Katie Turnbull, TTI executive associate director and the project’s principal investigator. “The results illustrate examples of innovative approaches to transit in a variety of parks — from a multi-route bus service in Maine to a proposed one-bus system in Vermont.”
The following highlights some of the common themes from the case studies:
- The issues, opportunities, geography, proximity of gateway communities and unique characteristics of each area should be matched with appropriate transit services, advanced technologies and other techniques.
- Building on existing relationships among various agencies and groups is important, as is forging new partnerships.
- Recognizing and respecting the different missions, goals and objectives of the various agencies and organizations involved is very important.
- Staff, financial resources and expertise should be optimized among the various groups.
- Communication among partners and with the public and stakeholders is vitally important.
- Many of the parks developed service in an incremental manner, building on the success of an initial route or routes. Service should also be flexible and responsive based on visitor demands and other conditions.
- Opportunities exist to engage businesses, corporations and other private-sector groups in supporting park and gateway community transit services and other transportation projects.
- Foundations can undertake and facilitate many activities that parks, federal lands and government agencies cannot.
- Documenting successes and failures is important. Providing information on ridership, costs and benefits is important for continued support from policy makers, funding agencies and the public.
“National parks and other federal lands agencies, gateway communities, state departments of transportation, and transit providers will find the reports and PowerPoint developed by TTI extremely valuable in developing partnerships, plans and agreements to advance transportation projects that benefit all types of users groups, while still protecting the natural resources of the areas,” notes Ben Orbson of the South Dakota Department of Transportation and chair of the NCHRP project panel.