Old Desolate and Rainier

Last month the National Park Service started asking what to do about crowds at Mount Rainier National Park overwhelming parking and road space. More parking would be very expensive and undesirable for the atmosphere of the park. Anywhere parking and road space are at a premium, transit is an obvious answer. But what would be involved in making service good enough that people would actually use it?

The obvious terminus for any Mt. Rainier bus service is the Tacoma Dome. It is the closest major regional transit hub and also has ample surplus parking on weekends. There are excellent, frequent bus connections at all times and light rail coming in the (early?) 2030s. And luckily, with the exception of Sunrise, all the accessible attractions are essentially on a linear path.

The bad news is that even the closest major hub is a long, long way to Mt. Rainier.

In case you’re wondering, going to Puyallup Station instead saves only 11 minutes with much worse connections.

While there might not be any stops outside the park except for the terminus, buses obviously run a bit slower than Google’s hypothetical driver. There will also have to be a driver break. An ideal service would have potential stops at each trailhead on the road, but in practice most delays will accrue at the visitor centers. As the point of this is to mitigate existing congestion, traffic will slow these buses down. In all, it would be quite ambitious to budget a trip as less than 8 hours in all.

Peak congestion is June to September. So let’s imagine a route that only runs counterclockwise, on weekends with hourly departures from the Tacoma Dome from 7am to 6pm. That’s about 96 service hours per day on about 38 Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. If the NPS can get a $175/hr rate from Pierce Transit, this comes out to about $638,000 per year. You could double it and get headways down to 30 minutes, and double again to have buses going in both directions, both of which would be nice but by no means critical unless ridership is so high that there isn’t enough capacity.

This is not large in the scheme of federal programs, or obvious alternatives like building more parking, and we haven’t even charged a fare yet. On the other hand, it would be important to build a queue jump at the main gate so that the bus can bypass the long wait there. This probably means building a mile or two of bus lane on SR706 leading up to the gate, a one-time expense that won’t be cheap.

Quite aside from the narrow “congestion reduction” objectives, this would also greatly expand ways to interact with the park. People without cars could get there. Backpackers could go into the wilderness without leaving a car somewhere for days one end. And point-to-point hikes become vastly more practical.

Adding a transit option is often a cursory gesture that doesn’t produce something attractive enough to actually use. Transit planning principles suggest that something following roughly this design would be an option appealing to those who value their time, perhaps enough to make a dent in the problems NPS is trying to address.

The NPS is accepting public comment on their problem through October 10th.

56 Replies to “A bus to Mt. Rainier”

  1. Interesting idea, but I doubt that the park (or anyone else) is looking at long-distance bus service to solve the parking problem at Paradise. It is too expensive, and has other issues. What they are looking at is what exists for a lot of national parks: a big parking lot *outside* the park, with frequent and free bus service from there to the most crowded destinations (in this case, Paradise, although Sunrise remains a possibility).

    Bus service from cities (or towns) to that parking lot could be added (with public or private money) but my guess is most people would just drive to the parking lot. Here are some examples:

    Zion — You can no longer drive the main Zion Valley in the park. You either take the bus (which stops at each trailhead) or bike it. There is a big parking lot at the edge of the park. There is a also a bus that runs up the valley from Springdale (the town outside of Zion National Park). Both buses are reasonably frequent and free. My wife and I have used both while staying at a motel outside the park. There is some private bus service to the park from Las Vegas (via Saint George) but in the past it was spotty.

    Bryce — Bryce has something similar, but allows cars to use the parking lots in the park. Along with serving the huge parking lot outside the park, the shuttle also stopped at Ruby’s, the main motel outside the park. I don’t know of any bus service from other cities (like Vegas or Salt Lake).

    South rim of the Grand Canyon — This is the busier part of the park. This is similar to Bryce (with a mix of a shuttle and parking). Like Zion, there is a second shuttle which connects the town(s) outside the park to the main park entrance.

    I’ve used all of these. I even thought of writing up a Page 2 about it, but just didn’t get around to it (and now I don’t feel like it). In all these cases, the biggest challenge is getting to the park. But having a good bus system within the park is essential. These can be combined (as you suggest) but I doubt very many people would use it, unless they had to. That would be a problem. It is one thing if you drive there (from say, Puyallup) and then are told you have to park outside, and ride the frequent shuttle. It is another thing if you drive there and are told you have to go back home (or to Tacoma). First things first: the park needs to provide in-park shuttle service to deal with the parking. Then private or public buses from Seattle or Tacoma could be run.

    By the way, there is a long discussion about this on NWHikers: http://www.nwhikers.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=8032419. From a hiking perspective, one really nice thing about a shuttle is that it allows for one way trips (although Paradise has a lot of loop trips, so you don’t gain as much as you do in say, Glacier National Park).

    1. Agree. There are 2 separate problems to solve.
      1. Getting people to the park
      2. Moving people around the park, including storing their cars
      NPS is trying to solve the latter problem. There are some interesting options for public transit access to the park, but the vast majority of people will continue to arrive by car.

      I really like the Zion set-up. The key difference at Rainier is a shuttle would need to be a through route between Nisqually and Stevens Canyon entrances, whereas Zion is out and back. I don’t think you can close 123 from through traffic, but you should be able to close 706 between those two gates and only allow the shuttle to access everything in between (on weekends). There would need to be a parking lot on the east side for people arriving from central/eastern Washington, but presumably not as large as the one at Nisqually.

      I’ll have to check out that nwhikers thread.

      1. It really isn’t that different than Zion — it is just a matter of scale. The main Zion Visitor Center is on Utah Highway 9: https://www.google.com/maps/@37.2021691,-112.9947022,15z. But it isn’t the end of the road for cars. While many cars do park there, you are allowed to go farther on 9, through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel and beyond. That means that you are driving on the same road used by the shuttle bus, at least for a small section.

        The same would be true for Paradise, although that overlapping section would be longer. The road to Paradise actually consists of a side loop that splits around Ruby Falls (https://goo.gl/maps/AV2nHxibpv7oKRGq9). When things are busy, ordinary cars wouldn’t be able to drive that section. If they came from Longmire, they would take a right at Ruby Falls, and a right again to access Stevens Canyon Road.

        Of course one possible issue with that is that folks might overwhelm Reflection Lakes or Narada Falls (areas a bit outside the main Paradise area, but well within hiking distance). At worst they serve those spots with the shuttle, and just ban parking (on those busy days). Or maybe they just live with the fact that most people would prefer the shuttle if they offered it (I would). If you want to drive up there, knowing you might have to turn around and head back, so be it. I’m pretty sure the situation is the same at Canyon Overlook Park. You might drive there, expecting to park and get a different view of the main canyon of Zion. But it sure looks to me that if the parking lots are full (https://goo.gl/maps/cZRBpB8Lh6ceZ3618) you can’t park on the side of the road (https://goo.gl/maps/W52EsrC5LjG3npMr9).

        This means that a shuttle bus to Paradise would still have some cars headed to Stevens Canyon (on the years that it is open). But no one (except maybe someone staying at the lodge) would be able to drive the most popular section — the side road to Paradise. In that sense it would be very similar to Zion.

    2. Glacier also has a bus system, but the busses are not frequent enough and often are overcrowded. Because they allow cars to drive Going to the Sun road even during the busiest times, but busses get stuck in traffic.

      I think Zion is the model here. But service will never be effective unless it is a forced option. People will spend amazing amounts of time/effort stuck in congestion or hunting for parking.

      1. Yeah, Glacier’s system is a bit like Bryce’s. Some people use it, some people don’t. I’ve used it, but I don’t remember it being very convenient (for anything but a point-to-point trip). I did that once for a solo trip and it was nice, but my voice got tired from yelling “Hey Bear, Hey Bear” (Glacier has a ton of grizzlies).

        Zion is the model they should follow.

  2. Oh, and I doubt the big parking lot would be inside the park. Most of the park is Wilderness, and even the parts that aren’t (like right next to the road) have really big trees. I think you would built it right outside the park (which are a mix of tree farms, motels, restaurants and rural lots). It pains me to think of a nice, working tree farm being paved over, but in the grand scheme of things, it wouldn’t be that bad. I could easily see building a big lot here (https://goo.gl/maps/DzZWVNwq81KdrF9f8 — a mile outside the park) or a bit farther. This wouldn’t have to be eminent domain, either — they could just ask around to see if anyone wants to sell their land (or part of their land).

    1. It doesn’t even need to be paved over. I’m imagining a giant lot that looks like a snopark, so gravel or some other permeable surface. IMO, it would only be used on summer weekends, and the rest of the year people will drive into the park like they currently do.

      Agree on that location, because then you can straight up close the park highway from private vehicles on weekends, forcing everyone to use the shuttle and therefore having high enough ridership to drive high quality headways.

      1. Good point — a gravel road would be much better for drainage. But it would still be the end of whatever tree farming exists on the property.

        Yeah, this would only be for busy summer weekends. In the Spring, Winter and Fall folks would just drive to the parking lot. I’ve seen it pretty busy on weekdays (in mid-summer, when the flowers are busy). At that point they could do both — allow parking if you get there early enough, and just run the shuttle during peak times. The bus part of this is pretty easy — the tricky part is where exactly the parking lot goes.

      2. I’ve since been told gravel isn’t particularly permeable. But NPS could presumably do something more environmental friendly than a vast impermeable surface.

      3. Gravel is not in any way shape or form a pervious surface. The weight of the vehicles on it compact it so much that it becomes nearly as impervious as asphalt. And, if you let vehicles drive on it everyday, it becomes a pollutant generating surface as well, so you need to treat the stormwater to remove pollutants. With all that considers, you might as well pay just a bit more for asphalt.

    2. Park junction is a great idea, not for a golf course, but a parking lot for the train station for the crowds to park at. You know tourists or should I say terrorists. Then the train can take them from there to longmire where they can hike to Paradise, forget a road, no more vehicles past longmire what so ever. The glaciers are receding at an alarming rate and due to the co2 accumulation, and the current 420ppm of co2 in the atmosphere via mauna loa, we need to stop vehicle traffic all together.

      1. no more vehicles past Longmire what so ever

        Well that would cut down on the crowds. I would expect a surge in electric bike purchases (unless they banned bikes as well). Longmire sits at 2700 feet, while Paradise is 5400. Panorama Point is 6200. That means that most of the hikes in the Paradise area would be tough, but not crazy. Camp Muir, which sits at 10,200 would have very few hikers (other than the climbers, who would have to spend an extra day on the mountain). Oh, and while there might be a very nice cross-country ski run (on the road) at times, most of the skiers would have to haul their skis up the mountain most of the year, in one of the few places that has great, safe, backcountry skiing.

        As long as we are dreaming of things that will never happen, I would like to see the Sunrise Road end at Sunrise Point, if not the switchback before there. Hikers would have to do a little bit more work, but not much. Areas like Burroughs, Skyscraper Pass or Berkeley Park become more remote.

        None of this would matter for the climate, but it would be interesting.

  3. Backpackers could go into the wilderness without leaving a car somewhere for days one end. And point-to-point hikes become vastly more practical.

    Good point. There have been break-ins at some trailheads. If someone gets a bus from the city, then this eliminates that problem.

    Point to point travel is a bit more complicated. The most popular backpacking trips are loops (the Wonderland Trail around the mountain, or the Northern Loop trail). If a shuttle system just went to Paradise it would offer up a few nice point to point day hikes (e. g. Comet Falls or Kautz Creek to Longmire). Not a lot, but a few.

    If the shuttle went from Paradise to Sunrise it would offer up a lot more. Summerland/Ohanapecosh is fantastic and makes for a great overnight backpack trip (if you can get a reservation to camp) or a long one-way hike. The problem is that a shuttle like that would be really long — over two hours one way (not counting stops): https://goo.gl/maps/LLrqbjVJMtkZCqwY8. For a shuttle system to work, it needs to be fairly frequent and run into the evening. Buses running for two hours (each direction) every 15 minutes all day long gets expensive. As cool as it would be, I think they will start with just Paradise (the biggest problem). Eventually they could add something similar for Sunrise. Both of those would be a bit longer than a half hour (depending on parking lot location) which would be a lot cheaper. I would love to see Mowich Lake Road get a shuttle. That would probably involving paving first (which would be great). In all cases the tricky part is building the parking lot. Not impossible, it would just require a lot of work.

    1. There’s probably an opportunity for two different shuttles.

      1. A high frequency shuttle between Nisqually and Stevens Canyon that completely replaces car traffic on busy weekends. Stops frequently at trailheads/overlooks between those entrances and runs every 15 minutes. All visitors must use this shuttle. Only runs when cars are prohibited from entering, i.e. busy weekends.

      2. A lower frequency shuttle that serves the the whole park and runs all summer. Perhaps doesn’t stop everywhere, but hikers can flag it down or asked to be dropped off. Exists to serve people to either access the park without a car or are doing 1-way hikes, and could run less frequently. Maybe this shuttle also serves the mega-parking lot used by #1, so people can choose to park outside the park for free but aren’t required to.

      And then #2 can be gradually expanded into a network that extends beyond the park itself, looking more like the YARTs network and provides transit for both tourists and locals in the various hamlets around the park.

      RE point to point: If you are doing a 1-way hike with the shuttle, generally you park your car and then catch a shuttle the morning, where you can better coordinate with a timetable, and then hike back. Also, the NPS can design their bus service around point-to-point day or overnight hikes that weren’t previously feasible/popular whenever everyone drove into the park.

      1. RE point to point: If you are doing a 1-way hike with the shuttle, generally you park your car and then catch a shuttle the morning, where you can better coordinate with a timetable, and then hike back. Also, the NPS can design their bus service around point-to-point day or overnight hikes that weren’t previously feasible/popular whenever everyone drove into the park.

        Yeah, good point. That makes it different than a point to point trip on the Paradise Shuttle. For that I could see myself taking the bus from Ashford to Kautz Creek (with the hoards headed to Paradise) and then hiking to Longmire where I catch the bus back to Ashford. In that case you need good frequency all day. But for the shuttle you are talking about, you don’t. That would make it cheaper as well. You run it every half hour in the morning, and every hour or two after that. You could even just stop running after noon. It would be reasonable to charge a fee for that as well.

        I’m just not sure how many people would use it, just because there aren’t that many one-way hikes on that side of the mountain:

        Frying Pan Creek to Box Canyon (Summerland/Ohanapecosh)– This is a spectacular hike, but either very long for a day hike, or requiring reservations for backpacking.

        Box Canyon to Silver Falls — Never quite gets up into the high country, even though it has a fair amount of up and down.

        East Side Trail — This is a nice lowland trail, but generally not why people go to MRNP.

        Owyhigh — Similar to Box Canyon to Silver Falls. It is OK, but there are no views of the mountain (unless you go off trail).

        Sunrise to White River — Maybe. It would be interesting to mix it up, but there are lots of loops from Sunrise.

        That’s pretty much it. You could drive all the way around to Mowich Lake, but that is a long distance, and gets you only a handful of trail runners and backpackers. Looping around would only benefit those same users (which make up a tiny portion of those in the park) and the West Side Road is closed (probably permanently). Interestingly enough, there are about as many good one-way trips just by providing that shuttle to Paradise (#1 above). Just to be clear, I would love it. It would be great to do the hike from Frying Pan Creek to Box Canyon. I’m just not sure if that is enough to sustain the shuttle. I would probably only do it once (it looks tough on the knees and the feet) which makes it different than hikes out of Paradise, Sunrise and Mowich Lake.

      2. I think you’d need to run the shuttle all day because not everyone uses it that way. I was just pointing out it unlocks new ways to spend a day in the park that didn’t (easily) exist prior, including perhaps some new trails to be created.

      3. I think you’d need to run the shuttle all day because not everyone uses it that way.

        Yeah, I’m sure there would be people who just ride it and stair out the window. Or drive to Sunrise, then ride the bus back and forth to Paradise (maybe with a brief lunchtime break).

        I was just pointing out it unlocks new ways to spend a day in the park that didn’t (easily) exist prior, including perhaps some new trails to be created.

        Yeah, I’m just saying that there aren’t that many one-way hikes. A shuttle to Paradise would have about as many, if not more good one-way hikes. Shuttle service along the I-90 corridor (connecting the trailheads of Ira Spring, Talapus Lake, Pratt lake, Denny Creek) would unlock more popular one-way hikes. A bus that covers some of the roads around Rainier would have some riders — I just don’t think it would have that many.

  4. How about Crystal Mountain? The parking lots should be pretty empty during summer. At least, it is not as far away as Tacoma.

    1. Unfortunately Crystal is at the end of a 6 mile dead end off highway 410. That’s a lot of back and forth just to get to the parking lot.

      1. That would only work if the extended the gondola down in the Rainier NP, and I don’t think that is going to happen. The driving route is just too circuitous.

    2. If Sunrise becomes the issue, then I could see it. It does require extra driving, but a relatively small amount (and Crystal Mountain might subsidize it, knowing it would help their resort business). But right now it isn’t Sunrise that is overflowing — it is Paradise.

  5. https://visitrainier.com/mt-rainier-railroad/

    Too bad the Railroad’s closed. Also that Franklin Delano Roosevelt can’t have any more terms of office. As witness the Golden Gate Bridge, he was occasionally partial to transportation. When CO-VID’s OV-er, would be a nice drive over to Elbe talk to them.

    But our economy’s eventual rebuilding will doubtless include both State and Federal projects of which the necessary bus priority could be a part. I’m also pretty sure that in addition to joining either Sound Transit or whatever follows it, Intercity Transit will be partial as well.

    Good preoccupation now is for everybody to be watching their families, and acquaintances, for promising future 18 year olds to vote both in a lifetime of upcoming elections, and also from the floor of the Washington State Legislature, where a ceremonial piece of birthday cake will be available to in all their new offices.

    Mark Dublin

  6. There are already great examples from Zion and Grand Canyon. In both cases there is consolidated parking and buses/shuttles. The Grand Canyon model is particularly relevant as there are seasonal driving restrictions. So it’s really about mitigating peak demand. There was a lot of push back initially but in the end it works great and makes the park experience more attractive for everyone.

  7. If I recall it’s an hour’s drive from Tacoma to Wilkinson near Carbonado, and that’s only partay to Mt Rainier. The roads aren’t 5 mph freeways.

      1. Given ST financing challenges and project development timing, I’d suggest targeting the service to run from Federal Way Transit Center either before or when Link opens. I can see how TDLE may be delayed past 2030, how the station area in Federal Way will evolve (including mixed use available for waiting Mt Rainier bus riders, 400 more spaces in the new ST parking garage in addition to 1200 there today, and several nearby hotels) upon the 2024/5 opening, and how easy and frequent it would be for the region to take transit to get there.

  8. For this to be successful, and therefore cost effective, it needs to be quick and reasonably priced.

    You might get some people willing to sit on a bus for hours from Tacoma to Paradise or Sunrise, but you’d get a lot more people if the lots were in Ashford and Greenwater, where there’s enough flat room to build parking and then you’re less than an hour to Paradise or Sunrise. Add a queue jump for the entrance and you’ve given a huge incentive.

    In addition, the current entrance fee is $30 for vehicles up to 15 people. The bus fare and (assumed) included entrance fee needs to be competitive with that. If the NPS started charging $10-20 per day for parking at Paradise or Sunrise, even a modest bus fare may still be competitive for a family of four, though you’re still likely to get singles or couples using the bus.

  9. It seems like an interesting idea to take the Trailhead Direct model. I was kind of surprised when Trailhead Direct moved to buses directly from Seattle and Tukwila (when ST 554 is as frequent as TD, and easy to coordinate connections with). The fact that they found it worth it to extend the length of TD routes purely for passenger convenience makes me think that a Mt Rainier route like this might work out in less economically constrained times. Though the big difference is that the state or county would have to fund this directly, since Pierce Transit really never has a lot of play money even in the good times (their play money buys a bus to Edgewood every 80 minutes that stops running at 1:30pm).

    If this were to happen, one nice side effect of it were routed to both Puyallup and Tacoma is that it would create a direct weekend connection between downtown Puyallup and downtown Tacoma (if people are able to use the service for regional trips). It’s kind of surprising, but I don’t believe there’s ever been a weekend connection between downtown Puyallup and Tacoma. It’s always required a 409 to 1 transfer.

    1. Another point is that Tacoma Dome service is not frequent off-peak, contrary to the article. On weekends 594 is half-hourly, and Pierce Transit routes are half-hourly or hourly. You’d need a Pierce County stop so that Tacoma can get to “its” mountain. Federal Way may have slightly better highway access to Mt Rainier, so that might be another point. But with the largest number of patrons coming from Seattle, Bellevue/Redmond, Tacoma, and greater Kent, it’s already a significant task to get to Tacoma Dome or Federal Way.

      West and southwest Pierce may be another issue; e.g., Parkland and Lakewood. Is it reasonable for them to backtrack to Tacoma Dome? Should they have another route, or a shuttle to the main shuttle?

      1. Yeah, this is a problem with Pierce County. There is an intra-county grid that runs hourly on weekends, and certainly not late enough to make a round trip within the day, so connecting to Puyallup is a non-starter. One thing to realize is that for such a long trip, backtracking to Tacoma from Lakewood is less of a problem on the fast-ish freeway (the 705 to Pacific Ave loop will take longer on its own, and for a round trip you’ll need to leave at 7 or so when I-5 is fast). The 594 starts early and runs late (by Pierce County standards), so connecting to the ST Express “spine” is the only real way to go here.

        Seattle is best served by taking the 594 to Tacoma. Federal Way is probably best done with the 574 or (if Puyallup is an option) taking the 402 there and the 574 back (since the 402 is woefully underserved like every east Pierce route).

        Bellevue and Redmond: drive to Tacoma Dome? This just doesn’t work on the bus alone. Maybe in an alternate reality where ST developed route 564 to be a full time 7-day grid route and Sounder shadow. But today it would be an 16ish hour journey at best.

  10. My thought is that the most sensible way to operate a Seattle->Paradise service would be to follow the service pattern used by Crystal Mountain during the winter ski season. You have pick-up point scattered throughout the Seattle area, with multiple routes serving different pick-up points, so you don’t have to travel a great distance to get to the ski bus. Each route individually runs just 1-2 round trips per day, with the 2nd trip driven by capacity needs, not frequency. All routes serve a P&R in Enumclaw, allowing those willing to drive to Enumclaw to take advantage of the combined frequency offered by multiple routes.

    Schedule-wise, all route arrive at the mountain around 8-9 AM and depart around 4-6 PM. There is no midday service or reverse-direction service, as there is no demand for such service.

    For Mt. Rainier, I think the service demand would be very similar. Frequency doesn’t matter that much for a long hour trip, although avoiding a forced transfer to a half-hourly 594 does matter, and with $20/person fares, might even pay for itself through increased fare revenue from fuller buses.

    The continuous loop pattern described at the top of the page feels more appropriate for a route with all-day, bidirectional demand, which for Mt. Rainier, is clearly not the case.

    Unfortunately, a service pattern like this does nearly nothing for circulation within the park itself, so it would probably have to be in addition to shuttles every 15-20 minutes between Ashford, Longmire, and Paradise. But, I see congestion mitigation at the most popular parking lots and providing alternative options from the city for people that don’t want to drive as almost completely orthogonal problems which require completely different service patterns to solve.

    1. Using the Crystal Mountain ski bus pattern for Paradise, my service pattern thought is something like this:

      route 1: Tacoma Dome
      route 2: Capitol Hill/Downtown Seattle
      round 3: Eastgate P&R

      All routes would serve the P&R at SR-7/SR-507, followed by express service up Paradise road, serving Ashford, then Longmire, then Paradise.

      Separately, you have park shuttles running Ashford->Paradise every 15-20 minutes all day, with much more frequent stops than the long-distance buses. At Ashford, Longmire, and Paradise, riders would be able to transfer between the long distance buses and the shuttle buses.

      Car traffic up paradise road would be limited to car campers, drivers headed to minor trailheads where congestion is a non-issue, and drivers who purchased a limited number of special permits for the high-demand areas online in advance. Everyone else would need to park in Ashford (or back in Seattle) and ride the shuttle.

    2. Here are the pickup points for the Crystal Mountain shuttle: https://crystalmountainexpress.com/. The Green Lake location strikes me as weird. I’m guessing they didn’t go with the nearby park and ride location because they either wanted easier parking (people would carry skis, after all) or there is some rule against using a private shuttle there (?). Either way, for a summer trip it makes more sense to use the Park and Ride.

  11. I did some checking and it appears that Federal Way Transit Center is seven minutes faster than Tacoma Dome is. Why make anyone from King County or points north add the 20-30 minutes of extra time each way to get all the way to Tacoma Dome when it’s actually faster in time from Federal Way to Sunrise?

    As I explained above, I’d suggest targeting the service to run from Federal Way Transit Center either before or when Link opens rather than at Tacoma Dome. I can see how TDLE may be delayed past 2030, how the station area in Federal Way will evolve as a better transfer point (including more supporting businesses/ food options available for waiting Mt Rainier bus riders, 400 more spaces in the new ST parking garage in addition to 1200 there today, and several nearby hotels) upon the 2024/5 opening, and how much more direct and frequent it would be for the region to use connecting transit to get there.

    1. Yeah, basically locations as east as possible are more practical. Federal Way would be a perfect location for both transit-users. But anything along SR167 is better. People are not going to drive out of the way to Tacoma just to take a bus.

      1. If the route begins in Federal Way, it would be easy to pull off from SR 16 and quickly circle into Downtown Auburn if users wanted to board there.

  12. Have the park offer reduced entrance fees on weekdays,
    thereby reducing congested weekends.! And publicize the change.
    We visited Paradise yesterday,
    On Thursday, September 3, 2020 and there was ample parking and no trail congestion. Picking the weekday option and especially late season, you will find less road , parking and trail congestion. We found none!
    Also, I’d recommend to the Park Service the necessity of better handicapped signage to access
    The trail entrances just above the Paradise Lodge & Visitor Center. There are poor trail entrances from both. There is a steep staircase with no railing by the Visitor Center that was hard to access with a cane. There were more path entrance
    To the trails via the Lodge area, but some where somewhat steep. Better and safer access for all is needed! That said, both Paradise and Sunrise are beautiful areas. We are so fortunate to have such a gem
    In the Pacific Northwest. Facilities are currently limited due to Covid, so prepare by bringing up a picnic.
    Also, stay on the trails! We saw a family of 8 resting off trail above Edith Creek. Maybe a few benches are needed in that area. Thank you.

    1. I’m not sure if that would make much different. Those who are on vacation don’t care. The people who go there more than once a year buy an annual pass (that covers National Forests and Parks). Older retirees (those that can easily go there on the weekdays) get a lifetime pass. It is busy on the weekends because folks from Puget Sound work during the weekday.

  13. I’m all in favor of having a publicly subsidized bus route, but in reality I don’t think the money will be forthcoming anytime soon.

    As an alternative, we can raise the parking fees high enough that most people start taking the bus. Private tour buses already serve Mt. Rainier, albeit very infrequently. I’m sure the service would improve with enough of an assist from higher parking fees.

    1. ..and albeit expensive. I recall a figure of +$50 per person a few years ago.

      I’d normally agree that the money would take a while, especially in this economy. But COVID could actually help because people are flocking outdoors more than ever. This could be used as sort of a “COVID-related” measure to quell overcrowding.

    2. My thought is to fund the bus service with a combination of fares and parking fees. Basically, you sell a limited number of parking permits to park directly at Paradise, which would not be included with an America the Beautiful pass (at least on summer weekends). Maybe these cost $20/car with a pass, $50/car otherwise. Then, for parking at Ashford and riding the shuttle, you charge $35 (no pass), $0 (with pass). Riders from Seattle would be charged fares of $20 (with pass), $35 (without pass).

      The hope is that with pricing like the above, the combined revenue from the bus fares and parking fees would be sufficient to cover nearly all of the operational costs for running the bus, with perhaps, private sponsors covering the rest. Such pricing also provides strong incentives for people to ride the bus, rather than congest parking lots. For instance a person traveling alone, without a national parks pass, would pay just as much to park and ride the shuttle (not even including gas) as they would pass to simply ride the bus from Seattle. If the person is ok with a bus schedule that has fixed arrival/departure times, that’s a strong economic incentive to ride the bus.

      Such pricing would also encourage those who really want to drive to move their travel to during the week (which would still be fully included with a national park pass, as before), further reducing congestion on the weekends.

  14. The Tacoma Dome could be a location but there are plenty of other options much closer, such as Puyallup and Sumner. Basically locations along SR 167 that don’t force people to drive out of the way from Mt Rainier. The NPS is definitely thinking about the non-Transit crowd, which is understandable.

    If the NPS was to implement a shuttle system to Rainier, I think area agencies may be more inclined to begin their own shuttle service to popular trails/nature areas and their respective areas. Can’t wait until CT begins a shuttle to Wallace Falls.

  15. If the goal is to reduce overcrowding, why can’t the park enforce the use of a reservation system? Require visitors to reserve a parking space (at least in the most crowded areas) and cut off access when the area fills up. Visitors would be forced to choose another area or day to visit. Additional parking and transit options would be unnecessary. Unfortunately, I’ve only seen Rainier from a distance and don’t know much about the park. Is the size too great for such a system to work?

    1. The sole goal is avoiding congestion caused by filled parking lots, that certainly does the job. But, it doesn’t provide any additional capacity for people to visit the park beyond what the current parking lots provide.

      If the trails, themselves, are already overcrowded and increasing the number of visitors would damage the landscape, independent of parking, then I think you’re right – rationing use is really the only option.

      But, if there is room for additional visitors, and you want to accommodate them without building more parking, shuttle service is the only option.

    2. I believe they are considering a reservation system as well. It is important to note that the only area they are looking at is Paradise. They aren’t studying other parts of the park. Both the current system and a shuttle bus system provide some limit to the number of people who can use the park. If the parking lot (at Paradise) is full, then you either have to wait, or find some other place to go. Likewise, there would only be so many buses going up there. At peak periods, there would be a line. But I would expect the experience to be much better.

  16. Good comment about the gondola, Chris, except maybe a shade pessimistic. In some other parts of the world, cable cabins the caliber of Portland’s aerial tramway provide some serious cross-mountain travel.



    But what this discussion really needs to do is take both a step back and a deep breath. Whether for good or for ill, I think current majority opinion trends strongly positive that none of us knows with any certainty what’s going to happen next. By the week, let alone the year.

    But one solid fact: this Election’s featured leadership are 74, 77, and 80, years of age. Admit skewed-sample possibility, but lately my every contact with their successors who are spending Labor Day putting their own career syllabus online, tells me that whatever mistakes they make from here on, none will be “cribbed” from their elders.

    The railroad network that the likes of Mt. Rainier deserves is to a great extent, already there. Check the old maps, and a few shovel-fulls will get you a spike to take home for a wall-plaque. Like increasing amounts of tech pre-history, a lot of roadbed probably shows from outer space.

    Luckily, there’s plenty of room alongside the hikers and bikers to put a perfectly good railroad past Ballard’s Nordic Museum. So likewise, the roadbeds that took the logs out, are just waiting for their chance to take many miles of traffic IN, except, unlike on every single highway, moving.

    Only rush about the whole thing has to do with Steilacoom. To receive his just de-zerts, State Senator Steve O’Ban has got to still be in office when the tweets hit the twitterfeed that PROVE Tacoma Link used to stop in front of Bair’s Drugstore!

    I’m not linking the evidence because it says “Not Secure”, but “Steilacoom Streetcar” summons proof that Tacoma Link is not just a fait accompli but also already literally, “Still In The Ground.” Senator? Senator? Where did he go? Good thing State Police are too put upon to give him a ticket!

    Mark Dublin

    1. Not that long ago TacomaRail still had track from Elbe to the Nisqually Gate park entrance. It’s how visitors used to get there. Tourist buses then went from this location (known as National) to the rest of the park.

      The state already has 4x Talgo 6 train sets that are retired from Cascades service that would work fine on this lower speed route. It would take a bit longer than a bus, but you could have decent meal service so overall time might not be so bad when you factor in being able to have breakfast / dinner while traveling.

      1. Something to check out. On Google map, go to Tacoma Dome Station, and trace the thin grey pencil line that stands for a railroad out of the yard southbound, paralleling Highway 7.

        Looks to me like a leisurely ride with some pretty lakeshore down to Elbe. And the “Recycled Spirits of Iron Park”, near the Park Administration Building. Just sayin’.

        Mark Dublin

  17. The road to Paradise needs to be removed, and a train track should take its place. No buses, no electric vehicles, no cars, no motorcycles. Only a long passenger train.

  18. Forget about it! Its an active volcano people. Nothing dormant from the spectrograms lately. Take a look, even St Helen’s is infilling with magma and is having some minor quakes.
    No bus to a volcano! Period. They are unpredictable in nature and will erupt someday.

    1. It’s vanishingly rare for volcanos to erupt with absolutely no warning. There are signs, and there’s enough seismometers around the state to give ample warning of changes in the mountain.

      Not to mention if we were to take your logic to its conclusion, we would need to permanently evacuate most of Pierce County and King up to Renton, as they are right smack in the path of Rainier’s lahars (which will happen with the amount of snow and ice on the mountain). Hell, they’re *built* on the remains of past flows, that’s why the area is so conducive to agriculture.

  19. My family and I went to Mount Rainier National Park on my birthday 9/1/20. You want to think of taking as bus up there your crazy the turns alone would be nuts. And from the Tacoma dome yeah you just want to make money. We live in graham was and it takes 1 hour and 25 minutes. to get up there
    In a bus would take a lot longer. Bad idea. If you want to do a short bus / trolley like at NW Trek. at the bottom where there is plenty of places to make parking. And the small businesses that exists would benefit from that as well.

  20. And another possibility about the railroad. It wouldn’t surprise me if those tracks go through places that once contained factories, like lumber and “shake” mills, and some communities around them.

    Fact that there were towns and factories before anybody even had a car, shows that as people start to view the sheer number of automobiles as a generator of mobility’s opposite, they’ll have no problem going back to the trains that worked before.

    And nobody’s talking “Either/Or.” Aboard the “Interurbans” that were really heavy-duty high-speed streetcars, it was common for one car to have a large sliding baggage door. Which, when open, would often show you a tractor motor and a dozen big aluminum milk cans.

    A couple of those new electric bikes cased in streamlined auto bodies would fit just fine too.

    Mark Dublin

  21. National Park entrance fees encourage coming to the park in private vehicles. The fee to enter Mount Rainier NP is $30 for a carload (up to 15 people in single private vehicle.) The per person fee for walk-up visitors and bicyclists is $15 per person. Any party of two or more people is encouraged to drive in.

Comments are closed.