Anyone attempting to drive in Banff during a long weekend knows they made a huge mistake.
But usually by that point, they’re either at the point of no return attempting to get to either side of the Bow River Bridge or they’ve been within eyesight of the Sulphur Mountain gondola for the past two hours, inching towards the parking lot, likely to get turned around because it’s full.
With the traffic conundrum in Banff not disappearing any time soon, additional solutions need to be looked at in addressing the situation.
However, with public transit moving full speed ahead, regional transit continuing to gain popularity and people relying more on active modes to get from Point A to B, what are the remaining options?
Public transit has significantly helped, but it’s also seen its own issues of success.
As Roam buses have become popular, it’s brought problems with overloading and having to turn away passengers. From June to September 2023, Banff routes 1 and 2 and the Banff-Lake Louise regional 8x bus had more than 1,300 times buses turned riders away because they were full.
With no new buses in Banff set to come online until 2025, it likely leaves much of the same issue for the coming summer.
The long-discussed Calgary airport to Banff train has been gaining the momentum of a runaway freight train but would be years away from coming to fruition. Despite high levels of interest and if it were to come into being, it’s still unknown how many people from Calgary and surrounding areas would choose it over the comfort of their own personal vehicles.
The Town of Banff has pushed for intercept lots and Parks Canada has been adamant in drawing a firm line in the sand that there will be no new intercept lots outside the townsite’s boundaries. Whatever is thrown the federal environment ministry and Parks Canada’s way, under the current federal government and environment minister you have a better chance of seeing hover cars come to Banff than sensitive wildlife habitat being paved over for vehicles.
A discussed, but highly unlikely scenario, is Parks Canada locking down traffic to the Banff townsite. While it would make life easier for countless Town of Banff staff and elected officials, by its nature Parks Canada is risk-averse and such a monumental move would be earth-shattering for that trigger to be pulled.
Though Parks Canada made the move for Moraine Lake last year, it came after years of discussion and after an abundance of parking had been secured at Lake Louise Ski Resort. The mixture of Roam, private and broken down school buses with Parks Canada logos on them is still a work in progress.
As everyone moves forward, without a significant change or new option, everyone will continue to look at ways to make incremental improvements.
Messaging will continue to be key in trying to get people to plan trips outside of busy times – which is essentially now all the time – but that decision is ultimately up to each individual.
For many people, sitting in traffic or driving around for an hour to find a parking spot is simply part of the equation when coming to Banff and Banff National Park.
The public and private sectors continuing to work to find possible efficiencies in bringing people to, from and around Banff and the national park will keep taking place, but again is only part of the solution.
The one thing that’s true is there are no easy answers. There is no silver bullet and no magic wand ready to be waved to fix everyone’s problem.
The reality is the coming summer will likely be a difficult one and much of the same as 2023.