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Ski traffic + Sundance traffic = busy Park City

Standstill traffic on Silver King Dr. near the base of Park City Mountain Saturday evening.
Standstill traffic on Silver King Dr. near the base of Park City Mountain Saturday evening.

The Sundance Film Festival festival is likely meeting pre-pandemic levels of visitors, although Park City doesn’t have official numbers yet.

Park City Special Events Manager Jenny Diersen said initial data shows visitor levels matching the last in-person festival in January 2020, although that won’t be confirmed until after the event.

Anecdotally, there are a lot of people in town, and they’re not all watching movies.

Andrew Leatham, who manages transportation operations for the city, has worked for the Park City Police Department and the Summit County Sheriff’s Office. He said Saturday’s skier traffic was busier than normal for Sundance.

“I would say that in my memory, I don’t remember a time when we had a Sundance Film Festival opening Saturday and had both of our ski resorts be full," Leatham said.

"That was definitely an unprecedented day. In what we’ve seen in the past, normally the ski resorts during the film festival have not been as busy.”

People who were parked at Park City Mountain Village reported standstill traffic for over an hour Saturday around 4 p.m.

That level of resort traffic combined with crowds attending a world-renowned international film festival calls for a large deployment from the city, Diersen said.

“In terms of staffing, it’s really all hands on deck," she said.

“There is a huge presence out there… a lot of times we talk about the city staff, but we have our restaurants with full staff, we have our lodging properties with full staffs. Sundance has a huge staff and they also have countless volunteers that make all of this possible.”

A key change over last weekend in the city’s traffic plan was the decision to make Main Street one lane downhill instead of two, said Park City Police Chief Wade Carpenter.

“We made a determination, I met with Chief Nelson from Park City Fire District. He agreed that in order to - if we had any kind of any major structure fire or anything else - we really needed to maintain the one single lane, have safe pedestrian travel on both sides and the ability for those vehicles to move either right or left based on where the response was coming from," Carpenter said.

"And if there was a critical incident at any location on Main, we have to have the flexibility to set up apparatus.”

Leatham said cell phone data also showed that reducing Main to one lane didn’t really affect traffic flow.

Carpenter said law enforcement from the local, state, and national levels are helping out for the duration of the event.

Another key piece of the city’s emergency response is enforcing parking restrictions on Hillside Avenue, as that is a backup road for crews to access Main Street.

Carpenter said emergency responders also have an on-foot presence in Old Town, so they don’t have to rely on vehicles to immediately respond to an incident.

Going forward, Swede Alley will be two lanes uphill only, and Park Avenue will be one-way downhill except for those with parking passes.

The majority of towing and traffic incidents happened on Park City’s most famous street.

“In the middle of Main Street, they were literally parking and leaving vehicles there in tow-away zones," Carpenter said.

"Which is very difficult for us cause we have to evaluate if they’ve been ticketed, does it make more sense to pull a tow truck in and stop traffic? A lot of times we really have to evaluate that carefully whether that’s the best practice or not.”

Key in that decision is whether a car is blocking emergency access, which would call for a tow, he said. During the first two days of Sundance, the police department received 250 calls for service, which Carpenter called “a lot.”

Key in easing traffic is bus ridership, which Deirsen said has been strong during the festival.

“We do know that we saw more than 350 cars parked out at Richardson Flat," she said.

"We have a comprehensive data analysis that will come after the festival where you talk about all parking, and all transit ridership, and what the traffic counts look like, and all the things. But we don’t have that data yet, and we like to wait until the end of the festival to make sure that all that is compiled.

"Things get a little quiet for the next two or three days, but then they will really likely pick back up next weekend.”

She said the city encourages all festival attendees to use public transit or walk. Diersen personally recommended people coming into town use the Richardson Flat park and ride, which offers bus service to Old Town every 20 minutes from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Carpenter reiterated that the main goal is to keep everyone safe, and that can come with some delays.

“When you have this many cars in a given area that really was never designed for this kind of traffic flow, we just ask people to be patient," he said.

"Recognize that if you’re going to be driving in the community, that they’re going to have impacts. And I think it’s also important for our locals to recognize the time they’re traveling. If they’re between that 3 and 6, they can expect to be inconvenienced, if you will.”

Stay up to date with the city’s Sundance alerts by texting “FILMFEST” to 888-777.