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Sedona is Moving Closer to a Transit Solution

by Pamela Williams

Getting from point A to point B in the easiest, fastest and safest manner, is an age-old problem. And now, with the impact of mass population and all it entails - including more vehicles, more pollution, more noise, and more traffic - figuring out the best way to cope with this change, while preserving the integrity of land and community, can be difficult.

This is what Sedona is currently dealing with.

A breathtaking area that draws millions of tourists a year into its pockets of beauty and canyons of grandeur, Sedona is suffering from an overload. The citizens, who must deal with such impacts, day-in and day-out, are asking, "How can we relieve the city of her stress and ours?" The result - a Sedona Transit Study.

The focus on solving the transit problem began in 1994. During the 1994 Sedona Academy Forum, entitled "Building Partnerships with the Forest Service," the issue of forest service impact and the need for change became a challenging question. From this, the 1995 Sedona Forum ("Congestion or Conservation - Do We Have Choices?") began to explore transportation options for the Sedona area. The Action Coalition for Transportation Solutions (ACTS) was formed with Sedona architect Max Licher leading the program.

ACTS would serve as a mediator among all governmental entities by providing ideas and study objectives to be considered. ACTS first task was to do a feasibility study. This was done by the Community Transportation Association of America, a nonprofit transportation research and technical assistance organization.

This study, based partially upon a prior study done for the Sedona Ranger Station, by TransitPlus, and further detailed information, helped provide a preliminary guide on the use of a transit system in Sedona and the surrounding areas. The study also helped point out ways to ameliorate growing traffic issues, while at the same time expand a range of transportation options.

"More than four years ago, the Forest Service reenvisioned a planning process, looking at transportation issues," Licher said. "They were the first to hire an outside consultant and they received a positive report.

"We wanted to take that to the next step - look for grant money, get a more in-depth perspective and a report for the community - not a full system design, but a feasibility study in concept. We wanted a public and private team approach. We didn't feel we could afford to hire a transit planner, so we decided to get the private sector involved, and that might help facilitate the process."

Because neither the Sedona Forest Service, Yavapai or Coconino County, nor the City of Sedona could outright afford to pay for a transit system, ACTS wanted to look into finding a private company to create and manage the system. The group opened themselves up to outside proposals and two were received; one from Coach USA and the other from Parking Company of America. Both gave ideas of incentives and disincentives to consider: What would assist Sedona with its traffic issues? . . . and how would the City plan to fund the project.

Mike Rayber, Sedona's Associate Long Range Planner, said that currently both proposals are under review by the consortium, the City, ACTS and both counties.

"The proposals may be revised and asked to be resubmitted based on additional input by this group," he said. "One of the two may be invited to pursue the project once the agencies define the next steps of the process. But it is really preliminary right now."

Each proposal has a different focus on how to solve the transportation issue in Sedona, which includes long-discussed from paid parking to detailed shuttle service.

The governmental agencies involved agree that there are many considerations to be reviewed within each proposal. These include what kind of market will be created that will encourage transit use, how the program will work financially, what effects there will be on land use, what kind of parking policies will be needed and enforced, and what are the infrastructural needs.

"From the City's point of view, this is a feasibility issue," Rayber said. "The whole vision for the transit system is that it is self-sustaining and privately run. We want to be assured it will work and there won't be a major public subsidy beyond the planning - perhaps some infrastructure needs will occur, but we need to know what kind of policy decisions will have to be made for the system to work."

For the Forest Service, concerns focus on how the program will provide a quality experience into the forest without degradation of the lands along roadways. "We want to provide a good experience for visitors in the best possible way," said Ken Anderson of the Sedona Ranger District.

"If we have to make more parking lots and clear off more land, this is going to take away from the visitor's experience. But it is dangerous as it is now, with the off-road parking going on in the (Oak Creek) Canyon."

The forest service is also interested in maintaining the environmental quality and preserving the community's sense of place to both residents and visitors by reducing traffic congestion and noise. Creating more parking lots, with water runoff from these lots into the forest, isn't their ideal solution.

For the citizens of Sedona, preserving the small town character by limiting road expansion is a top consideration. Bringing in more roads that are wider or bigger won't solve all the problems nor will it preserve the integrity of their town.

So how will these needs be met? Solution ideas range from creating a public shuttle system with frequent, convenient and accessible service within Sedona and between the Village of Oak Creek and Uptown Area, to parking strategies. All ideas serve as incentives and disincentives toward using the transit system. Without such incentives and disincentives, it is feared by proposers that the program would not work. And with surrounding communities such as the Verde Valley watching Sedona in hopes of following suit, Sedona wants to do it right.

"I have been watching Sedona, and we have had a staff member from our engineering department attend all of the meetings to keep us up to speed," said County Supervisor Chip Davis. "We will eventually need some sort of transit system within the incorporated communities, so we are quite anxious to see how Sedona's program works when it gets going."

Davis continued, "I know this program is mostly citizen driven and one of the neat things about their approach is that they have tried to minimize the impacts on others by looking for grants or a vendor to come in and operate the program so that they can do it without any other types of government support. I have been watching them go and struggle and am very happy they are hanging in there."

Armor Todd, owner of the Sedona Trolley, would like to see a solution that includes our neighbors. "I think a transit system is a good idea, but a Sedona-only system is not going to address the problem adequately. I think it would be better addressed on a regional basis. Some think our traffic problem is from the tourists only. It is also the local people causing the problem."

Read 'The Proposals'... continued >

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