Bicycling as a Solution to Yosemite Valley Traffic

Yosemite National Park attracts 4.5 million visitors a year, 60% of whom spend at least some time in Yosemite Valley where many of the park’s natural wonders are found. In summer months, visitors jam the valley’s roads and parking lots, detracting from the quality of the park experience and contributing to significant environmental impacts. Park management has struggled with the traffic problem for decades. The park has approximately 5,400 parking spaces including 2,100 day-use spaces, approximately 2,200 overnight use spaces, and 1,100 administrative and residential parking spaces (National Park Service, 2020). The park has long operated a free shuttle-bus system that enables visitors to travel to points within the valley without driving. 

Bicycles have also been a popular alternative within the valley, both bicycles that visitors bring with them and bicycles rented to visitors by the day by a private concession. Twelve miles of bike paths make bicycling a popular recreational activity in and of itself but also encourage bicycling as a way to get from one site to another. A master’s thesis by Sean Co, an ITS-Davis student, explored the role of bicycling in the valley two decades ago. To bolster the use of bicycles, the Yosemite Conservancy implemented a small bike-share system in 2018. This system, free to users, is intended to enable overnight visitors to run errands such as grocery shopping without having to get into their cars. The Yosemite Conservancy operates the system with 30 bikes from June to October. Users check-out bikes from one of two stations in the valley via the Yosemite Bike-Share app (developed by Republic Bike) and return them to the same station. Previously collected data reveal important aspects of how the system has been used. During the summer of 2020, amidst the coronavirus pandemic, the 30 bikes were used on more than 1600 trips with the majority under 1 hour in duration. Users commonly used the shared bike to access Yosemite Falls and Yosemite Village. Very few people took advantage of the bike share in successive days, although many people made multiple trips within a day. Changes in trip patterns following relocation of the bikeshare stations from 2018 to 2019 and 2020 show the strong influence of station location. For example, 42% of trips ended at Half Dome Village in 2018 but only 29% ended there in 2019. Bike share user surveys show that poor cellular service and Wi-Fi access in the valley is a challenge, and it could be a barrier to app download and bike-share use. Further analysis of system data could yield more insights that could provide a basis for system improvements in the future. 

The purpose of this project is to explore the potential for bicycling to play a larger role in the effort to manage Yosemite Valley traffic and reduce environmental impacts. The proposed research will help park managers better understand the use of the bike-share system as a basis for the planning of future improvements and expansion. Specific goals are to analyze existing data from Streetlight, the bike-share operator, and previously conducted surveys to extract initial insights, to be summarized in a report, and to develop a survey instrument and administration plan. 

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