SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County leaders are already thinking ahead to the ski season and how to lessen the grueling traffic it draws up Little Cottonwood Canyon.
The mile-long snake of vehicles has become a necessary evil for skiers and snowboarders who don't make it up the mountain before the 9 a.m. rush, despite its hourlong delays.
Mountain Accord stakeholders have been looking at long-term solutions to the congested, polluting journey up to the Salt Lake Valley's ski areas, among other issues. In the meantime, County Council members want short-term relief.
Councilmen Max Burdick, Richard Snelgrove and Sam Granato are driving a unique proposal — and it's not a plan that would take years to implement like the Mountain Accord, they hope.
It would be a people-driven canyon rideshare program, Snelgrove said, fashioned after the "casual carpool" phenomenon occurring in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco called "slugging."
"Slugging" is when commuters, looking to take advantage of highway carpool lanes to speed their travel, pick up passengers — often strangers — on their way to and from work. Would-be riders line up on sidewalks in designated areas to wait for cars. Drivers looking for riders then pull over and offer rides to common destinations.
"Slugging" has been in practice in some areas for more than 20 years, offering a free and easy alternative to public transportation. San Francisco officials have even installed signs designating destination-specific areas for people to line up for a ride.
"With regards to canyon congestion and air quality issues, there is no one silver bullet," Snelgrove said during a council meeting Tuesday.
But, he noted, casual carpooling could take at least some cars off canyon roads.
"Someone has already decided to drive their car up there, so why not fill it up on the way up?" Burdick said.
Because the canyons don't have carpool lanes, drivers would need a different incentive to pick up passengers, Councilman Jim Bradley pointed out.
Snelgrove said ski resort officials have expressed interest in the program and providing preferential parking as an incentive to drivers.
"I think we're on to something," Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton said. "This could be very innovative. I like it."
To push forward with the proposal, Snelgrove suggested forming a group of interested council members to develop the concept in time for this winter's ski season.
However, the program shouldn't be government-run, he said. Instead, council members would present the idea to mayors, ski resort leaders and other community members, and see if the program takes off.
"If we truly want this to succeed and our motives are to lessen canyon transportation starting this ski season and have an impact on air quality starting this winter, then let's follow (San Francisco's) model," Snelgrove said.
"Slugging" was not started by one particular group and it's not managed or regulated by any government agency. If a canyon ridesharing program is to succeed, it should be "people-powered," Snelgrove said.
But someone needs to spark the idea, Snelgrove added.
"If not us, then who? If not now, then when?" he said.
The County Council didn't take any formal action on the proposal Tuesday, but Snelgrove said he plans to talk with stakeholders to form a concrete plan in about two months.