Ways to the West: How Getting Out of Our Cars is Reclaiming America’s Frontier

by Candace H. Stowell, AICP, Carson City, Nevada

Tim Sullivan’s new book, Ways to the West, continues his exploration of planning issues in the West, but this time in terms of old and new ways of transportation. Sullivan, who is a former journalist and now a city planner based in Salt Lake City, is the author of No Communication with the Sea: Searching for an Urban Future in the Great Basin. This second book was published by the Utah State University Press.

Sullivan, a keynote speaker at the 2014 Western Planner/Utah APA Conference in Salt Lake City, explores the mobility conundrum of the West. What does mobility mean? In his prologue to Ways to the West, Sullivan describes his love of hitting the road in his SUV with his camping equipment from his home base of Salt Lake. But throughout this book, Sullivan tries to redefine mobility. Do you have mobility if you have to depend on your automobile to go everywhere or do you have mobility if you have many transportation options? The growth of western cities such as Phoenix and Denver has depended on creating new freeways and wide arterials for automobiles, to the detriment of neighborhoods, community spaces, and pedestrians. The good news is that many cities in the West are creating more transportation options, including light rail, bike lanes, and greenbelts. As Sullivan noted in his 2014 Conference speech, we are “improving mobility by giving ourselves a wider array of transportation choices.”

In Ways to the West, Sullivan describes his three-week trip in 2012 to explore transportation issues in the West. He visits six cities (Las Vegas, Denver, Phoenix, Boise, Portland, Salt Lake City) to learn about transportation planning in these cities and to research the historic travel corridors in the West. His modes of transportation include planes, cars, his bicycle, buses, and trains. He manages to take five different Greyhound bus trips and bicycles 652 miles through portions of Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho.

One of the wonderful aspects of reading Tim Sullivan’s new book is that he goes back in time, quoting from some of the diaries of travelers taking the Oregon Trail in the 1800s (the Scott Family) and also the Lincoln Highway in the early 1900s (the Gladding family). This is rich material and helps the reader appreciate the sense of adventure and discovery for these early travelers in the West. Sullivan observes that traveling – the adventure of traveling – has lost the civility that earlier travelers experienced. It’s difficult to meet other travelers when you are in your car, but onboard an Amtrak train, you can easily meet other travelers if you sit in the train’s observation lounge, as Sullivan does on his trip from La Junta, CO to Flagstaff, AZ.

Ways to the West includes many hand drawn illustrations of downtown street networks and highway corridors. One wishes Sullivan could have also included some photos of his journey across the West.

The book starts and ends with the author’s optimism about the changing nature of mobility in the West. Transit ridership is increasing throughout the West, and there has been, as Sullivan describes, “a bicycle revolution” in many Western cities. When Sullivan attended elementary school in Salt Lake City in the 1980s, he had prepared an argument against light rail transit in a school debate, arguing that Salt Lake City was too spread out. Fast forward and today the TRAX light rail system in Salt Lake City and surrounding suburbs is a great success. As Sullivan gladly admits, he was wrong in his elementary school debate.

Candace H. Stowell, AICP, is an urban planning consultant in Carson City, Nevada and represents the Nevada APA Chapter on the Western Planning Resources Board and is the chair of The Western Planner Journal Editorial Board.

Published in the December 2015/January 2016 Issue

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