Residents send message about tours

Opposition to bus routes voiced in 'STOP LOCAL TOURS' signs

Posted: Friday, May 08, 2009

In the last week or two, a handful of downtown residents put up signs on their properties that say "STOP LOCAL TOURS." The signs popped up at homes on West 12th Street, Irwin Street and Calhoun Avenue, and another clutch along Gold Street and Basin Road.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

The common thread that has the residents publicly griping is tour buses on narrow roads creating extra noise, traffic and road safety concerns.

Chip Thoma of the watchdog group Responsible Cruising in Alaska distributed the signs and claimed a minor victory in the matter after the Juneau Assembly's Finance Committee on Wednesday pulled about $45,000 in funding to expand a bus pullout where Fourth Street feeds into Calhoun. The larger pullout would have accommodated full-sized buses alongside the Juneau-Douglas City Museum.

Thoma said the bus turnaround "would've been the death knell" of the cause.

The main item of interest along the 12th and Calhoun route is a glimpse of the governor's mansion, an aside as tourists are en route to their main attractions, such as the Mendenhall Glacier or helicopter excursions that are otherwise accessible via Egan Drive.

"That five seconds ruins a neighborhood," Thoma said. "If the governor's house had historical value and parking and a scheduled tour, I could see it. But since there is no parking in the area, there are no tours ... it's just an inappropriate venue they're using there," Thoma said.

Kirby Day, a spokesman for Princess Cruises and a coordinator of the industry program that seeks to minimize tourism impacts on the community, characterized the museum as a scapegoat.

"Somehow, people got the impression that adding this bus space would increase traffic on 12th and Calhoun. It's absolutely false," Day said.

Museum Director Jane Lindsey said the bus accommodation was unlikely to affect bus traffic in the neighborhood.

"The museum doesn't have tour buses lined up. If and when we can attract larger buses, we will probably already be in some kind of packaged tour, not an additional tour," Lindsey said. "The idea that the turnout would immediately mean X amount of additional buses on the road" is unfounded, Lindsey said.

She said she was never directly contacted about the neighborhood's concerns and hopes something can still be worked out to promote the museum.

"From my standpoint, as museum director, I think it's unfortunate that we can't bring people up the hill to this museum in larger numbers to visit. I feel what this museum has to offer is the heart of this community. ... Finding the happy medium for everyone, that's the trick. I can't say I really know what that is. I would like to think we could all get together and work this out."

Day said the Tourism Best Management Practices, a voluntary set of rules most tour operators follow to be good neighbors, have repeatedly been changed over the years with additional concessions to accommodate the residents of the 12th and Calhoun area, including using Egan unless the tour specifically includes the governor's mansion, avoiding peak traffic hours and using the route in only one direction.

"Really, over the last 10 years, we've probably eliminated 75 percent of trips there," Day said. "I think that we've acted respectfully, and in doing our tours up there, we're always willing to listen to people's concerns. ... Certain individuals are getting people all whipped up."

Mayor Bruce Botelho, who formally proposed killing the pullout expansion to the Assembly's Finance Committee, said the residents have legitimate concerns about the bus pullout and that he was willing to act on them.

"The fear of the neighborhood is once you create a convenience for full-size buses that have to be headed on Calhoun and down 12th, it will be eventually used. And I think that's a legitimate concern," Botelho said.

Cindy Smith and her husband, who have lived in a home near Cope Park since 1989, said the bus traffic has increased over the years and said more walking tours could fulfill tourists' interests while reducing the number of bus tours.

"I think I call poor Kirby Day, oh, two, three times a year," with bus-related complaints, Smith said. "I'm OK with tourism, but I'm not part of a petting zoo. ... It's just gotten really obnoxious."

The particulars of the Basin Road situation are different. Unlike 12th and Calhoun, there are no sidewalks along Basin Road, and it's the only route to some main attractions there, such as the Last Chance Mining Museum and Perseverance Trail.

Joyanne Bloom, who's lived on a narrow, blind corner of Basin Road since 1975, said she's not against local tours - she altered her sign to say "STOP BASIN RD. TOURS" - but said the tour groups could stage elsewhere and incorporate scenic walks into their excursions down Basin Road.

"Until we have safe sidewalks, it's inappropriate," Bloom said.

Day said the protest signs paint an unpleasant picture of Juneau.

"They put signs up, that's fine, but it sure doesn't portray a welcoming image of the capital city to our visitors," he said. "It's unfortunate."

• Contact reporter Jeremy Hsieh at 523-2258 or e-mail

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