Modeling the effects of shuttle service on transportation system performance and visitor experience quality in Rocky Mountain National Park

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Transportation Research Record

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Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) was one of the first national parks to adopt an alternative transportation system: a shuttle bus system initiated in 1978. To address parking lot shortages while accommodating growing numbers of park visitors, RMNP expanded its shuttle bus service in 2001. Although the expanded shuttle service has helped to alleviate parking congestion at popular trailheads, expansion may also be enabling levels of visitation that cause or exacerbate visitor crowding. Thus, there is a need to evaluate and potentially refine RMNP's shuttle service according to the amount of visitor use that can be accommodated at popular destinations in the park without unacceptable effects on the quality of visitors’ experiences. This study evaluated and quantified transportation system performance and visitor crowding at popular recreation sites in the Bear Lake Road corridor resulting from RMNP's shuttle service operations. The study used integrated transportation and visitor use modeling to provide quantitative estimates of the extent of parking congestion, transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, transit operating costs per passenger, and visitor crowding associated with existing and alternative transit service operations scenarios. The National Park Service will use information from the study to refine the operation of shuttle service in RMNP in a manner that both optimizes transportation system performance and protects the quality of visitors’ experiences. Further, the study framework can be generalized to other public lands units to design and operate transit service in accordance with transportation, resource, and visitor experience objectives.

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