The county transit agency will offer a new way for locals, shoppers and parade watchers to visit downtown Sonora and see the 28th annual Christmas Parade along Washington Street.
For the first-time ever, parking along the usually crowded street will be severely limited or prohibited for most of the day, so Tuolumne County Transit is providing its three trolley cars for a special holiday service schedule.
The holiday service will consist of three routes and rides will be free for a limited time before and after the parade, which takes place on Nov. 25, from about 5 to 7 p.m.
Coordinators hope the restrictions will help increase visibility and safety, while the trolleys will allow businesses to reap the benefits from the influx of visitors to the downtown area on one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
“We’re hoping its a day where people can take advantage of public transportation and hopefully reduce some of the headaches associated with the parade,” said Tyler Summersett, transportation planner for the Tuolumne County Transportation Council.
He said the goal is to make the parade “less car-centric” and encourage people to stay downtown after the parade to do some holiday shopping.
“The hope is that by removing the idea of a quick escape with everyone rushing to their cars to beat the crowd, then maybe we can facilitate the traffic on the main street,” he said.
The three routes being offered will be include a Sonora-Jamestown-Columbia route, one between East Sonora and Twain Harte and a Sonora Loop route.
Before and after the parade, from 3 to 5 p.m. and 6:30 to 8 p.m., there will be free rides from a designated area on each route to downtown Sonora.
The Sonora-Jamestown-Columbia route will shuttle passengers every fifteen minutes from the Mother Lode Fairgrounds to Washington Street during the designated free parade service times. Passengers on the East Sonora-Twain Harte route will be shuttled from The Junction shopping center to Stewart Street, while those on the Sonora Loop can catch a free ride from Columbia State Park to Washington Street.
Summersett said the plan is to use the routes to cross-promote other holiday events happening in Jamestown, Columbia and East Sonora.
The increased demand for transportation caused by the parking restrictions will also be a way for Tuolumne County Transit to promote its services, said Darin Grossi, executive director of Tuolumne County Transportation Council.
Grossi pointed to similar promotion efforts this summer, which saw TCT running special weekend trolleys through Sonora, Jamestown and Columbia.
“This type of specialized service gets people to ride public transit who normally wouldn’t,” he said. “It’s a little bit of a marketing effort on our part.”
The parking restrictions were approved by the Sonora City Council unanimously at an Oct. 17 meeting.
Parking will be prohibited on both sides of Washington Street between Elkin Street and William Street from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Also, certain parking spaces on Washington Street in front of Court House Park, Veterans Museum, the Opera Hall and Umpqua Bank will be restricted from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Parking spaces on certain side streets will have temporary restrictions throughout the day, too.
Shirley Sarno, executive director of the Sonora Chamber of Commerce and co-owner of the Gunn House Hotel, said local business leaders in the chamber were in favor of the parking restrictions after hearing of TCT’s plans for the holiday trolley service at a town hall meeting Oct. 8.
She said the majority of the chamber felt the parking restrictions would give people a better view of the parade, while the trolley service will allow them to spend more time downtown to eat and shop.
Sarno called it a joint-effort between local business, government and residents.
“What the merchants kind of learned is they can work with their neighbors and the city to get something done,” Sarno said.
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