BANFF – Transit ridership is up and vehicle volumes are down in the tourist town this year.
With Banff now attracting about 4.2 million visitors a year, vehicle volumes were up 18 per cent over the last four years, but went down 2.4 per cent to the end of August this year.
“We can’t specifically say what that’s due to, but we all know we didn’t have free access to the park this year like last year,” said Claudia Rustenburg, the Town of Banff’s engineering services technician.
“Gas is also more expensive this year, and every long weekend in July, August and September was sort of cool and raining and, of course, in August we had a lot of smoke.”
The townsite sees about 1.7 million vehicles a year, averaging a daily volume of 26,816 this year compared to an average of 27,512 vehicles per day last year. This year, peak times saw 32,423 compared to 34,275 vehicles per day last year.
Meanwhile, more and more people are taking the Roam bus to get around town, as well as cyclists taking advantage of additional bike racks that have been placed throughout the townsite.
Ridership on Roam’s three local transit routes is up 25 per cent so far this year from 541,803 riders in 2017 to 677,549 this year. In July and August alone, the number of people who took the bus was 286,125, up 44 per cent from last year.
Rustenburg said she believes increased transit frequency is making a big difference. “It’s a good news story,” she said.
Officials say efforts to encourage more people to walk, ride or catch the bus are working.
They point to vehicle entrance volumes being down 2.4 per cent, local transit ridership up 25 per cent and the number of vehicles across the Bow River bridge down 3.6 per cent.
“For the first time, we’ve had mode shift across the bridge,” said Rustenburg.
“That’s a good sign because we want to see less people go over the bridge in private vehicles.”
However, congestion continues to be an issue for the tourist town.
Lengthy traffic backups between downtown and Banff Springs Hotel, and on Mountain Avenue to Sulphur Mountain tourist attractions are not uncommon. Traffic can back along Norquay Road to the Trans-Canada Highway, particularly after a train passes through the community.
But the length of time people were stuck in traffic was lower than in previous years.
The busiest day was Aug. 5, which saw a 24-minute delay from the Rimrock Resort Hotel to downtown, with traffic backed up to the big bend on Mountain Avenue. That compares to the biggest delay of 41 minutes in 2017.
“I think that’s a significant improvement over 90 minutes,” said Mayor Karen Sorensen.
Rustenburg replied: “Yes, but when you’re stuck in traffic, people of course would still like to not have to deal with the delay.”
One of the tactics used on busy weekends during summer are parking ambassadors to help tourists find a place to park.
For example, Rustenburg said ambassadors directed 60 vehicles from downtown to park at the Fenlands recreation centre – and that was just in 20 minutes on two separate occasions.
She said it helps to have someone on the ground marketing parking at the Fenlands, noting returning regional visitors will learn that’s a good place to park.
“Circling around in traffic is really not fun,” said Rustenburg.
Sorensen welcomes the data being compiled to help with traffic management.
“It shows council the decisions the have been made through the years for investment in transit have been well worth it,” she said.
“These are all decisions we made with the hopes that it would make a difference, and when we see that it is, it’s incredibly rewarding.”