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A disappointing start for the Summit County E-Bike Share

The difference between yesterday and today was great. Yesterday was full of hope. Today was full of reality. So, it was for the Summit County Bike share.

Yesterday we had the opportunity to ride with members of the community to celebrate the launch of Park City and Summit county’s joint electric bike program. We rode to the white barn. There the mayor gave an impassioned speech about watching geese fly overhead and hearing the sound of bats cracking when riding his e-bike. Other city and county figures spoke about how e-bikes will fit into the broader transportation system. Finally, many of them spoke about how this was the country’s first all electric bike share program, which brought broad cheers from the crowd.

Maybe we all should have paused to let that final comment sink in.

Today my wife decided to ride a Summit County E-Bike from the Kimball Junction to Prospector to pick up her other bike. I rode along on my Pedego e-bike. The ride started off great, as we pulled up to the bike rack and unlocked a bike. The bike racks are gorgeous and its almost like magic when you key the bike’s number into your phone and it unlocks the bike.

Then about a mile and a half into the ride, my wife hit a bump on the trail and the bike turned off. It wouldn’t turn back on. The bike became an 80 pound paperweight sitting on the paved trail next to Highway 224. What do you do? We tried everything we could to get the bike running again and we couldn’t get it rebooted. Then we looked for a phone number. There’s no phone number on the bike for support. We then opened the app and the contact us section of the app looks like it would email someone in Quebec. We tried that and still haven’t heard back. I called the Summit County Transportation Planner but she wasn’t available. Just as I was about to call the bike maker (Bewegen) in Quebec, my wife found a phone number on the bottom of the Summit County Bike Share website.

She called the number and the person asked if she could just ride the bike to the nearest bike rack. That would be the Canyons and it was about a mile and a half away. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem but the bike weighs something like 80 pounds and it’s fixed gear. She couldn’t do that. The person then asked if she could just lock it up where she was and walk. Again, we could have walked but you don’t rent an e-bike to walk it around the Basin. So, I sucked it up and rode the bike uphill for about a mile and a half, while she rode my bike. It’s the hardest physical exertion I have done in twenty years. I don’t know when my knees will forgive me.

Once we got to the Canyons, we actually ran into a Bewegen support person coming out of 7-11. She was very kind and gave my wife another bike to use. She asked if we had checked whether the bike was out of power (note to other riders: you need to do this before renting a bike… we’ll talk about that in another post). The broken bike magically turned on once it was back in the rack and we saw that the bike still had 3 hours of battery, so that wasn’t it. She also told us just to lock up the bike if it breaks down again and they will find it. You’re still walking, though.

If that was the end of the story, it would have been a mild inconvenience… but it continues…

Our plan was to drop off my Pedego for a tune-up at the Pedego shop near Sammy’s Bistro. My wife would pick up her bike and I would rent a Summit County E-bike and ride it back to Kimball Junction. Once we got to Prospector my wife and I parted ways. I went to Pedego and she got her bike. We met back up at the Prospector Square E-bike station, where we met a random person named Piper. It seems Piper’s Summit County E-bike had broken down just like my wife’s. She had walked her bike to the station and was trying to get another one. However, when she used her app to try and get a bike all it would say is “Alert: OK”. She had tried every bike in the rack. You got the feeling she had been there a long time. I then tried and all I got on the app was message saying “Alert: OK”. My wife, who successfully used the app 2 hours before got the same message.

The only bike we could use was one that someone had not pushed fully into the bike rack. We decided we couldn’t be jerks and pushed the bike back into the rack so the lock would engage (note to other riders: make sure you hear a faint ding from the bike when you rack your bike back up… or your bike isn’t really returned). We didn’t want the anonymous rider to get charged $2 per half hour just because they hadn’t successfully docked the bike.

Piper then headed off to catch an Uber. We joked that maybe the Summit County E-bike share was secretly owned by Uber.

I went back to Pedego to beg for a loaner bike, which they nicely accommodated.

Since arriving home after spending nearly 4 hours on what should have taken an hour and a half…we communicated this info to the county, who said they would address this up with Bewegen. Bewgen is managing the service for the city and county.

However, the issue is that no one knows who Bewegen is. The brand and organization at risk and responsible here is Summit County. Their name is on it.

I’d say about 10 people stopped and tried to help us with the Summit County E-Bike that had broken. We have a great community. However, all those people heard that the bike didn’t work. If Piper, the woman we met at the Prospector Square bike station, is half as friendly to others as she was to us… she has a thousand friends who likely heard negative things about the bike.

The problem is, when negative things happen, it makes you question an organization’s ability to deliver. The county is contemplating a guaranteed ride home if you took the bus. After today I ask, would that guaranteed ride home be 4 hours later? I think about the Cine Dahle parcel that the county bought, and wants to put 600-1200 units of affordable housing. Before, I questioned the idea. Is it a good idea? Now I question whether they could execute on it, even if they wanted to.

If we were the city and county, we would have people at every e-bike station tomorrow and throughout the weekend to help users. We would quickly print up labels with the support phone number on them and affix them to every bike. We would have a couple of vans ready to take people to their destination if the e-bikes break down and the person calls support.

These issues will be fixed. Hardware and software usually are. However, it’s a good lesson that Summit County and Park City need to be on top of this. They need to own it. It’s great to tout that we have the first fully electric e-bike share program. However, it’s evident that there are some downsides to that. Summit County and Park City are now in the rolling laptop computer business, whether they know it yet or not.

When your bike breaks down on Highway 224 and Flying Sprocket can’t even help you, you are in a brave new world … whether you want to be or not.

Are AirBNB, VRBO and other short-term rentals killing Park City?

There is a great article in Outside Magazine about how AirBNB and other VRBO services are killing the “last great American ski town.” No, they aren’t talking about Park City. They are talking about Crested Butte. However, the article might as well be talking about Park City. What are the problems? Traffic. No affordable housing. Fewer year-round residents. Increased home costs.

The articles theorizes that ski towns in the West are being decimated because people are buying homes to rent as STRs (short-term rentals). This drives up prices and makes everything from long-term rentals to home purchases less affordable. With that comes traffic and other issues.

The director of Colorado Association for Ski Towns says, that historically short term rentals “were mostly just excess inventory—­someone had an extra room, they weren’t going to rent it out long-term anyway.” Now, she argues, “it’s reached such a point that people buy homes for the sole purpose of renting them.”

Is this just a Colorado thing? No. Ulrik Binzer, founder and CEO of Host Compliance, a San Francisco startup that helps municipalities track STR activity, says in the article, “I have friends who pitched me on the idea of buying a place in Park City and renting it out during Sundance, basically paying the mortgage for the whole year.”

We often hear that 2/3 of homes in Park City and 1/3 of homes in the Snyderville Basin are second homes. It makes sense that these folks want to help pay their (second) mortgage. Unfortunately the rental income also enables people to pay more for a home, thus driving up costs. For instance maybe you live in Chicago and love Park City. You might decide to buy a condo here. Let’s say you can afford a second mortgage payment of $2,600 a month. At today’s rates, you could buy a $550,000 condo (30 year mortgage). Now, what if you thought you could rent that property out for 6 days a month at $250 a night, thus making $1500 extra a month. Now you think you can afford to buy an $875,000 house (or condo). You think you can probably make even more during Sundance.

They are going to buy more. They are going to pay more than they would have. If hundreds or thousands of people have this mentality, the demand drives prices up. To be honest we’ve had those thoughts… should we buy a second condo in New Park and rent it via VRBO? Our friends have those thoughts as well. It’s much easier to justify if you tell yourself that the income help pay the $400 per square foot.

Where this hits hardest is workforce housing. We like that term better than affordable housing. Is a $500,000 condo affordable? What’s affordable? The article highlights the issues affecting workforce housing. “It’s always an issue, and this has just exacerbated it. Homes that used to be rented to the workforce, that offered year leases, are suddenly being pulled out from under them and put on the short-term market.” In Crested Butte, long term rentals shrank from 43 percent of the town’s free-market housing stock in 1997 to 24 percent in 2016. Locals are competing for fewer rental units.

So, what are ski towns doing about it? Much like Park City and the Snyderville Basin they are trying to increase supply. Much like our affordable housing initiative that will happen at Cline Dahle (by Jeremy Ranch elementary School), Crested Butte is creating income-restricted apartments. However, it’s difficult to help ensure there is enough affordable housing. As the Outdoor Magazine article states, a new hotel would be required to create a certain amount of affordable housing. However short-term rentals have no such requirement.

So, what do we do about it? If there was a good answer, it would be implemented everywhere. There isn’t. There are cities who try and limit short-term rentals by limiting rentals to 90 days total a year. STR owners often then let the house sit empty, except for the prime 90 days. This of course lowers tax revenues because visitors aren’t out on Main St (in our case) for the other 275 days spending money. Therefore, cities and counties are against it.

Other limitations are often floated but they get shot down by attorney’s and other property owners who depend on that income. For example a Crested Butte realtor says, “I’m not sure what the problem is. Crested Butte had spent money to bring more visitors but now we’re saying we don’t want them here. Limiting STRs is not ­going to lower the price in town. The town is going through the roof because people want to live here.”

Sound familiar?

Also, does this statement from the article’s author sound familiar? “I could also sense an inchoate fear that Crested Butte was in danger of losing what made it so desirable in the first place. Much of its last-great-ski-town aura comes less from its skiing than from its strong sense of identity (it was a working town long before there was a ski resort), its relative affordability (compared with, say, Aspen or Vail), and its quirky cast of local characters.” The author then talks about a local school teacher who says, “After a while, it wears on your community when your schoolteachers and folks like that can’t be a part of it. They should be the ones coaching and volunteering and showing up for free music. When you drive home for the night and don’t come back, it’s harder.”

If anything, it shows we’re not alone.

If you have a few minutes this weekend, we’d recommend reading the entire article. It highlights many of the issues we are dealing with today and the ideas that have been tried.

Here is what the current VRBO market looks like in Park City and the Snyderville Basin.

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you Park City Fire District

Just after 4PM this afternoon lightning struck the hill above Jeremy Ranch Elementary school. I received a call from my neighbor telling me that a large fire had started. He said it was about the size of 4 pickup trucks. As I raced home, which is about a quarter-mile from the fire, I thought of all the things I could lose: my dog, my house, my memories.

By the time I arrived home a few minutes later, the Park City Fire District was already on the scene. As the fire crested the ridge and headed toward homes in Jeremy Ranch, the firefighters worked diligently. The firefighters are still working, but as of now, no homes seem at risk.

I’m not sure that would have been the case without them.

Our local governments often receive a lot of complaints; however, I have been nothing but impressed with the Park City Fire District, Sheriff’s Department, and Park City Police Department. They have our backs…

And on an afternoon that was almost 90 degrees, when it hadn’t rained in weeks, and a fire is a 1/4 mile from your house… you are very thankful for these people.

So, thank you Park City Fire District for all you do.

Here are pictures from today’s fire:

At least two fire trucks and a tanker truck were on the scene, along with EMTs, and Sheriff’s deputies.
The back side of this ridge was much more burnt by the fire than front side (shown here)
Personnel started by stomping out the fire, then used hand tools, and finally used water
Even after the water, it seemed like the fire kept burning

Even the animals fled the fire. About 5 or 6 deer came down from the ridge

 

Did you enjoy Park City’s 4th of July Parade and and activities yesterday?

Marie Kondo specializes in helping people remove clutter from their lives. One of the questions she asks when helping people decide what to keep around is, “Does it spark joy in your life?” If not, you get rid of it.

We’ll assume like many Parkites, you attended Park City’s 4th of July parade on Tuesday. Did it spark joy in your life?

That may be a little bit extreme. The parade and associated festivities are SOMETHING TO DO. Unless you are Mayor Jack Thomas, at the center of attention, riding your bike down Main, it’s probably more of something to do than something that sparks joy (to be fair, Mayor Thomas probably doesn’t like it that much).

It’s a spectacle.

We gazed upon the throngs of people who crowded, sitting under a tent on the baseball diamond, to eat their BBQ. There couldn’t have been more than a few inches separating each person in 90 degree heat.

We watched as people walked across the Rugby field, oblivious, as the game was still going on.

We tried to swim upstream from City Park and head back towards Miner’s Park, through the tens of thousands of people heading down from the Parade.

Park City knows it’s broken, and they’ve tried for a few years to fix it (god bless their souls). But like traffic, it’s probably unfixable.

Friends of ours say they are going to Oakley’s Parade next year. However, that just seems like the locust mentality … where others have overrun our parade so we’ll go overrun somebody else’s. We can’t buy into that.

So, did the parade and related festivities bring you joy this year?

We hope so.

 

 

Cline Dahle… Where does the water come from ?

Summit County seems hell bent on putting 600 or more units of affordable housing between Jeremy Ranch Elementary School and the Burt Brothers complex (The Cline Dale parcel). They are contemplating taking a piece of land that would have had 1 home and are now putting 600-plus homes on it.

During this week’s Summit County Council meeting, representatives from the University of Utah presented a study they performed on the parcel and concluded that hundreds of units could be built on the parcel and it wouldn’t impact traffic. However we have another question… what about water?

For those people in Jeremy Ranch and select other areas of the Basin, they’ve been on water restrictions. Summit Water has limited the number of days that grass can be watered (two days a week). This indicates that there is not enough water, which is troubling since this year we had one of the best snow packs in a decade.

We visited with one resident who was fixing sprinklers on a Sunday morning and was “written up” by the Summit Water patrol. He said the person took down his address and told him that he better look at getting rid of his grass because next year Summit Water was going to cut back another 25%.

What? That doesn’t bode well.

It appears there is not enough water in the Basin. Yet, the County buys a piece of land for a transit oriented development and plans to put 600 to 1200 units on it (currently it is farm land). Averages show an apartment uses 150 gallons of water per day. At 600 apartments, that is an additional 35 millions of gallons of water used per year, if the Summit County Council goes forward.

If we are in a water shortage, where does that water come from? If Wasatch County growth also continues (that also eats into our available water) where does that water come from?

We understand the desire for the county to buy land for affordable housing. However, we are not sure that populace would trade their own water for adding additional affordable housing.

Regardless of personal feelings, it currently doesn’t even seem to be part of the discussions. Currently, it seems the only discussion is economic development and traffic related. There seems to be no discussion of water at all.

We’d encourage the county to look at whether there is enough water available to add another 3,000 people at Cline Dahle. If they discover water is not a problem, they should work to get the regional water companies under control. If they discover that water is an issue, there are many other alternatives that both require less water and would make their constituents happy.

Need a local band for your Park City event? Try Joy and Eric.

Last week my wife and I were out on Main Street having dinner. A local band called Joy and Eric were playing. We hadn’t heard them in a couple of years. It reminded me of how good they are. They’ve played Deer Valley, Red Butte, and many other places.

As usual, we requested a song by a Colorado band called The Samples. Joy and Eric had played with them years ago. When they played “We all move on” it felt like The Samples were in the room.

Joy and Eric are chameleons. Whether they are playing Peter Gabriel, Simon and Garfunkel, or a band you have never heard of (like The Samples) they are spot on. It’s like you are listening to the original band.

We always wished we had a reason to hire the duo for an event. But, you know, a blog like Park Rag doesn’t have a lot of events … or money to have events. That said, if your company (or establishment) does need a great band, you should look up Joy and Eric. We’ve never been disappointed.

If you do, just invite us to their next gig.

 

Note: The Park Rag doesn’t take advertising. We like what we like and don’t what we don’t. This is something we like.

First Look: Summit E-Bike

You may have heard that Park City and Summit County are launching an e-bike program on July 14. There will be various stations setup across the Basin, where you can rent a Summit E-Bike for a short period. The thought is that tourists will use the e-bike and rely less on a car. The hope is that the resident will use the e-bike to drive to work or use it to get from the bus stop to work.

Residents can buy an annual pass for $90 that lets them rent the bike for 1.5 hours at a time. Otherwise, you can rent the bike in 45 minute chunks.The price varies depending on which shorter term pass you buy (monthly, weekly, daily, or per ride). As an example, for the per-ride, you can rent a bike for 45 minutes for $2.

My question has always been “how good will the bike be”? Today I got a first glimpse at the answer. As part of the launch of electric buses for the transit system, the city and county offered free rides on the e-bikes arriving July 14 today. I took advantage of that offer.

The company providing the service is out of Quebec and is called Bewegen. Therefore, the test unit was very Canadian. The Bewegen rep said that production models would be in US format (i.e. miles instead of kilometers). She also said that their bikes travelled about 50 miles on a charge, depending on how a person rode the bike and how charged up the bike was when you started.

So, how was the experience?

It was OK.

I’ve been riding various Pedego E-bikes for about 2.5 years. I take my kids to school on the e-bike. I pick up Pizza on my e-bike. I go to the grocery on my e-bike. I love e-bikes. I firmly believe that e-bikes (and related vehicles) are a cornerstone of providing a better transportation experience in the Snyderville Basin. They are flexible and on-demand.

My initial conclusion, albeit after only a few minutes, is that the Summit County E-bike is almost a different product from the e-bike you may buy at a store. It is industrial. It is rock solid. It is made to last in the rain. It may even last a nuclear attack from North Korea. But it does not provide the comfort you would get in a Pedego, Radwagon, or iZip. The Summit County bike is a little jarring as you pedal. It doesn’t provide the power that a regular e-bike does on hills. It feel a little like you are pedaling a motor scooter.

So, it is not as nice as what you might buy. That said, when y0u rent a car at Avis it isn’t usually as nice as your car at home.

Also, given our tough weather, this bike has to be durable. The rain, the snow (in June), the wind, and the sun all take their toll.

There is a tradeoff. You can’t have a plush experience from a bike and expect that bike to also sit out in the weather.

I’m a little torn. I want e-bikes to survive in Park City. I had hoped that the Summit E-bike program would encourage people to buy their own bike. I’m not sure that will happen. The Summit E-bike is just not the same smile-inducing experience that you get from an e-bike you would buy. For example, if I wanted to go from Tanger to Smith’s (two rental stops) I could go through the trouble of renting the bike but I would probably walk for that distance. If I wanted to go from Smith’s to the Canyons (two of the rental stops) that may take 10-15 minutes to ride, but the comfort just isn’t quite there. I might do it if I really wanted to attend a concert and had a way to ensure a bike was available for the ride back. That said, the 10-15 minute ride is probably the sweet spot for this service.

If we take it any farther, say Smith’s at the junction to PCMR, I can’t imagine riding the bike that far. The seat was too uncomfortable for that.

Likewise, I rode my Pedego from Jeremy Ranch up to the Utah Olympic Park this morning for their Slip ‘n Soar (a fun experience by the way… next one is July 4). It was some work heading up that hill, even with the massive amount of pedal assist that the Pedego Stretch is capable of. I don’t think I could have done it on the Summit E-bike rental. It just didn’t seem to have enough power.

All in all I applaud Summit County and Park City for looking outside the bus for other transportation solutions. I’ll be interested to see how the e-bike share works out. There is a lot of money invested in it (some of which is a grant), so it had better work out. That said, I won’t be trading in my Pedego for a $90 a year pass for a rental. Although my Pedego costs many times more than that, it’s a superior experience.

I’d recommend you try out the e-bike share next month. If you enjoy the experience at all, then go into the Pedego store near Sammy’s Bistro (and White Pine) in Park City and try one of their bikes. We guarantee that if you liked the bike share, you’ll love a real e-bike.

Likewise, maybe the Summit Bike share is good enough to meet your needs. In that case, please use it up. You’ll get a little work-out, have a different perspective on our community, and reduce traffic … for a reasonable cost.

Overall, I guess I was hoping that the bike share may be the gateway drug that gets people into e-bikes. Unfortunately, I’m not sure it will get you high enough.

 

Our richest person is pretty low on the “Rich-Scale”

We saw this infographic a few days ago.

It shows the richest person in each state. In Utah, the richest person is Gail Miller… of Larry H Miller fame.

What is interesting though is that her $1.2 Billion net worth puts her at 43rd place on the list. It’s somewhat surprising since Utah often ranks #1 in business in many surveys.

You might think that the best business climate would drive net worth…

 

 

Get ready for traffic heading to the new Whole Foods

I have had a frequent debate with a friend over the location of the new Whole Foods on Landmark Drive. I say the traffic is going to be horrible. My friend says, “I just don’t see that it will add that much traffic.” His point is that Whole Foods by itself won’t crush Landmark Drive.

However, something I read today may sway that debate in my favor. As you probably know, Amazon is planning on buying Whole Foods. There has been much speculation about how Amazon’s purchase will impact other grocers like Kroger (i.e. Smith’s to us in Utah). Today I read an article discussing how Whole Foods (under Amazon) will provide Mercedes for the price of Toyota. Amazon just doesn’t care about a profit.

So, why wouldn’t everyone shop at Whole Foods if they could. Imagine all the cars from Smith’s trying to access the Whole Foods on Landmark Drive on a Saturday. Crazy.

The question we have is how long until Whole Foods moves out near the Home Depot, where they probably should have built in the first place. We’re sure the cost of the new building will tie them to KJ for now…but we won’t be surprised to see them making a move early next decade.

 

Old Town Cellars is the Type of Business Park City Should Support

Are you looking forward to an evening out this summer in Park City? May we suggest stopping by Old Town Cellars (near Vinto) on Main Street. Old Town Cellars was formed in the last few years by locals who wanted to produce great tasting wine in Park City.They buy juice from some of the best wine growing regions, blend, and produce a unique product. You may have seen their Mountain Town Red in the wine store.

My wife and I were going to Riverhorse last night and decided to stop into Old Town Cellars before dinner to have a glass of wine. We hadn’t been since last winter. Our visit reminded us that it’s just a great place. It’s so local and so much what a local company should be. There are ski boot shells with flowers adorning the outside. There were a number of bikes and e-bikes outside; when we asked about them, our server said that they all generally bike to work. There are a few guys working, all who live in Park City. You get the feeling that this is what they do. It’s not a job. It’s a passion. That is a very different feeling than you get from other places around town (even at somewhere as good as Riverhorse).

Last night we tried their Pinot Grigio and their Rosé. The Pinot Gris was fine but you have to try the Rosé. I later had a Rosé from France at Riverhorse and it didn’t compare. Old Town Cellars’ Rosé was crisp, with a perfect amount of fruit.

One of the other interesting aspects of their business is their goal to help the environment. We asked about the clear, humongous oblong spheres sitting in the corner of the business. Our server told us that Old Town Cellars wanted their tasting room to be glass free in the near future. They don’t want to just stop recycling their glass… they want to stop using glass altogether. They want to serve their wine using unique, reusable kegs that insure freshness and helps the environment.

It’s the sort of initiative we wish Park City Municipal would get behind. It’s sort of the Achilles heal of Park City. We depend on tourism but that tourism leads to big environmental impacts. Could the city offer something to encourage the reduction of glass? Could they do something that would not only help businesses like Old Town Cellars but also encourage places like the Spur and No Name to dump glass too? We think they could do something.

So lest you take this as an advertisement for Old Town Cellars, the Park Rag doesn’t take advertising money. We just like what we like (and don’t what we don’t). You may or may not like it. That said, if you are looking to do something before your 7PM restaurant reservation, we’d recommend giving them a try.

We will definitely be going to back there.

They are located at:

890 Main Street
Park City, UT 84060