Last weekend we went to Yosemite (Named because people go Oy Vey when they see it). Now there are a zillion blog posts about yosemite, so instead I'm going to continue my very short series of thoughts on how to maintain (or raise) our standard of living whilst reducing car usage. Something that is immediately apparent to anyone who goes to Yosemite is the fact that the main valley is full of cars, car parks and roads. Already the National Parks Service is working hard to reduce this by providing a regular bus service around various popular areas, and encouraging bikes.
Their bike plan involves a rental service, special bike roads and bus mounted bike racks. In fact, you could easily spend your time up there without a car at all. There are a few things missing though.
Firstly, you can't get up there cheaply and easily without a car. When we went we carpooled with Ole from work, who is also new to CA. But the drive took about 5.5 hours. Much of the time was actually the boring bit with straight roads and traffic jams. It turns out that back in the 1920s there was a rail service to El Portal, the last town before Yosemite. The reserve remains, although a short portion is currently being used due to a landslide covering the highway.
Once the californian high speed rail service goes in it will be quick and easy to get to Merced (45 minutes compared to 3 hours via Pacheco pass in a car). There is a line as far as Planada, which can then be connected to the old rail route through to El Portal. However, I suspect it would be worth realigning much of the track given the significant advances in earthmoving technology. The final approach to Yosemite might be best done with a tunnel, as is done with most of the roads. The rock is fracture free granite, and although hard to cut, is very stable.
The second thing I think would really help remove cars from Yosemite is a lift (elevator in american) from the valley floor to glacier point. Every night hundreds of people drive up to glacier point to watch the sun set (sun down in cowboy american), and then drive back down. Thus, every night, there is a traffic jam on a dead end road to nowhere.
Instead, follow the Swiss lead of putting lifts in to mountain peaks. Again, the rock is very solid fracture free granite. If the lifts run vertically it would probably need an entrance somewhat back from the cliff face at the top, and away from any land slips. At a rough guess from the map, this would mean a half km approach with a 1km vertical climb. This is well within the capabilities of current cableless lifts. The lift would allow people to take bikes up in non peak times so that they could roll back along the 50km (32mile) descent to the valley floor. This would also surely reduce the number of roadkilled bears, deer, squirrels etc. It is probably worth running two lifts with separate mechanisms so that one can be serviced.
Finally, run a bus service from the valley all the way through to Mariposa grove. Currently there are buses in the valley, and a shuttle between Mariposa grove and the Wawona hotel, but no connection to the valley proper.
This approach would actually increase the amenity of the park, as there will be less focus on car parking space, less traffic, and the opportunity to get much closer to nature with the reduced traffic. Cutting out the two hour return trip to glacier point will similarly increase the amount of time people can spend enjoying nature.