Congestion on the road to the summit and in the parking lots at the top of Cadillac Mountain reached critical levels several times this summer. While much of the attention has been focused on the impact of larger vehicles, such as tour buses, the primary cause is simple – too many cars.
From a visitation density point of view, buses that can carry 60 people only take up as much room as five or six cars, which might be carrying a fraction of that number. Large recreational vehicles are even worse offenders, often carrying only two to four people and taking up much more room.
There are numerous management tools for scheduling buses, including assignment of time-windows for parking. Currently, car visitors just show up. Gridlock is occurring, not only in mid-afternoon, but even at dawn, as hundreds of cars attempt to park at the summit so visitors can watch the sunrise.
The only management tool available for rangers worried about keeping the road open while preserving access for emergency vehicles is to shut the road down completely until enough vehicles clear.
In Mariposa Grove, a popular area of majestic sequoia trees in Yosemite National Park, parking spaces are being removed. When the area reopens next year after a major restoration, access will be by shuttle only. If traffic on Cadillac continues to worsen, a similar solution may be required here, at least during peak season.
Unfortunately, any shuttle system for Cadillac would require a plan for visitors to leave their cars. Larger parking lots at a planned visitor center in Trenton may be unattractive for many visitors, as those lots are some distance away. It would be fairly easy to create a few bus waiting spots within the existing right of way at the base of the Cadillac Summit Road. But there is no environmentally responsible way to build a large parking lot or waiting area for cars in that area.
As Acadia officials continue to develop a formal transportation plan, the congestion on Cadillac will take center stage. How best to strike a balance between buses and cars undoubtedly will be a prime topic of debate.
Because of their large size, tour buses are a likely target. But considering the number of people they carry, buses are not the worst offenders. Too many cars and recreation vehicles are the larger problem.