CEO Talks Traffic
Let’s talk about traffic. It is the hot topic on everyone’s mind. As an 18-year resident of Sedona, I get frustrated with traffic too. We live in a community that has two roads in and two roads out. We all know that traffic is a drawback to our tourism-based economy, and as our economy thrives, we are experiencing more traffic issues. There are two sides to every coin and, as we have seen, even success can have its drawbacks. Having come from communities that struggled economically, I can say that I would rather have the challenges that come from success and abundance, than the opposite.
It’s true, tourism is booming in Sedona now – and has been for the last three years. And that’s good, as there are many individuals and families that support themselves with money earned in hospitality jobs. Close to 10,000 households in Sedona benefit from the jobs created by our tourism economy.
It is important to remember that tourism is a fragile industry, and while business is good now, most economists are saying we should expect a downturn in the next two years. So, while we are enjoying this current economic boon, we are leveraging the money generated by our visitors to help mitigate traffic issues and our organization is spending more money on visitor management than visitor marketing.
We hear you and we share your concerns. The City of Sedona has made traffic their number one priority and is working towards mitigating the traffic challenges and the Chamber is striving to be part of the solution as well. The Chamber team is working towards the same goals – and has been focused on transportation programs for the last two years. Our focus has been on visitor management, improving flow, promoting walkability to get visitors out of their cars, and on dispersing visitor flows to less congested areas.
While some blame increased traffic on over-development of the tourism industry, it is interesting to note that the hotel sector has added only 180 new rooms into inventory in the last 10 years. An equally interesting note is that we have had massive growth in the short-term rental market. It is the new short-term rental law, SB1350, enacted in January 2017, which has drastically changed the face of Sedona. There are now approximately 1,000 short-term rentals offered in the Sedona area. That represents an increase of 25% more units. This was not a City decision, but a statewide law passed by the Governor.
We have had some successes in the past years in trying to mitigate traffic problems. The Verde Lynx, the commuter transit system out Cottonwood, has seen growth in demand over the last couple of years. And we think that more commuters will ride it if it runs more often and later. That’s why starting this summer, we hope to allocate bed tax funds to an expansion of the Lynx service so that it runs more often and later into the evenings getting more commuters off the road.
The City has also worked out private/public partnerships with several uptown merchants to utilize their parking lots for additional free public parking, adding an additional 100+ free spots in Uptown. Our purchase of a strategic parcel on Jordan Road has also added another 40+ spots, with the option to more than double the parking capacity there in the future. Additional free off-street parking was a priority to minimize the impact of paid parking meters to the businesses in Uptown.
Parking meters were installed to incentivize people to use off-street parking (which was historically under-utilized) and new parking lot signs and way finding signs have been installed and more vehicular and pedestrian wayfinding signs will be expanded upon to help create an enhanced sense of place in our districts. The City is also utilizing Community Service Aids to monitor traffic and crosswalks on busy weekends, and the elevator at Wayside Chapel now provides more direct access from the free public parking to Uptown.
Traffic is not a new problem. The difference between now and 20 years ago is that now the City has the funds to make significant improvements and the City Council has the political will to make it happen. There is a lot being done, and there is a lot more in the works. We can all be grateful that the burden to pay for these improvements will fall mostly on the visitors who contribute heavily to our sales tax base.
On a final note, some of you may remember the Roadrunner Transit System that was utilized to help move visitors around the Uptown area. Unfortunately, it was disbanded during the recession to cut City expenses. Some will say that it wasn’t effective, others will say that it wasn’t given enough time to show success. But this is one BIG area that our community can improve on. One of our goals in the next five years is that once a visitor arrives to Sedona, they can park their car, and they won’t need it again until they depart. Wouldn’t that be a nice service for locals, too? Imagine taking public transit to work, to an event, to the grocery store or to a trailhead. I think that’s a goal we can all get behind.
Our Administrative Office, located at 45 Sunset Drive is open between 8am-5pm, Monday through Friday, please stop by and share your thoughts and ideas with us. Our door is always open, and we hope you will drop in and us know what is on your mind.
-Jennifer Wesselhoff, President/CEO