Some National Parks welcome millions of visitors every year; Yosemite NP in California passed the 4 million visitor mark in the 1990s, and continues to climb. And it’s no secret that most people use their private automobiles while traveling to and through the parks. This results in growing congestion, lowered visitor enjoyment, and more pollution from the exhaust of cars idling in long queues at park entrance stations.
Enter Intelligent Transportation Systems, or ITS. These aren’t the alternative-powered shuttle buses and other vehicles that some parks are adding, although ITS is often tied in with such vehicles. ITS include a variety of components that alert park visitors with up-to-date information on road construction, open Purchasing fleet vehicles the efficient way to meet demand parking lots, park attractions, and general roadway information. Some ITS components, such as Park Information Radio Systems, have been in place for years. But the most recent breed of ITS depends heavily upon the advent of smart phones, GPS, and web sites that allow park personnel to deliver up-to-the-minute information to park visitors.
In a multi-year field test of intelligent transportation systems components held at Acadia National Park in Maine, 86% of the visitors reported that ITS information helped relieve the stress or uncertainty of travel. When the park tied electronic arrival/departure signs and stop announcement technologies into it popular Island Explorer shuttle buses, 80% of the park visitors reported that ITS components made the bus system much easier to use.
While shuttle arrival signs that key to bus locations via high-tech GPS units are cool implementations, there are many more mundane ITS tasks that can greatly increase the enjoyment of a park visit. For example, in 2010, Rocky Mountain National Park implemented a pilot project using dynamic message signs-portable electronic signs that reported the availability of parking spaces in parking lots.
The signs were set up at locations where drivers could see them early enough to make alternate plans. For example, if a driver was entering the gateway community of Estes Park, he or she could make the decision to park in town and take a shuttle bus to visit the park, avoiding potential parking problems. This is called “mode-shifting,” by getting visitors to use an alternative to the private automobile. Traffic congestion and parking problems are lowered, as is air pollution from the private vehicles moving slowly between park attractions. The visitor experience is enhanced and the park resource is less threatened by the overcrowding of private vehicles.
Parking management is only one demonstration of ITS in national parks. Other potential uses include electronic fee payment and automated entry systems, traveler information transmitted to web-enabled smart phones, and emergency management procedures when needing to quickly re-route traffic.