by Colin Quinn-Hurst, Salt Lake City, Utah
Arriving in Salt Lake City, one encounters both stunning scenery and local business districts bustling with coffee shops, restaurants, and unique storefronts. Nearby, one finds grids of tree-covered streets and quiet trails winding up the foothills and scenic canyons of the Wasatch Mountains.
Supporting these ingredients in the city’s nationally-recognized quality of life; however, a backbone of accessible transportation options provides easy mobility for residents and visitors. The Wasatch Front’s transportation network includes commuter rail, light rail and streetcars; an extensive bikeway and urban trail network; and a mix of walkable neighborhoods and business districts. Planners visiting Salt Lake City for the Western Planner/Utah APA Conference in September of 2014 can take advantage of these options to explore the city and the region during their stay.
Salt Lake City’s modern transportation network grew out of historic development patterns, as well as more recent investments targeting economic development and environmental quality. Founded on an expansive grid of wide streets – built wide enough to pull a U-turn while leading a team of oxen -- Salt Lake City once boasted a streetcar network covering 146 miles and carrying 38.9 million annual passengers. While operation of the last original streetcar line ceased in 1946, the grid system of wide streets left a foundation ripe for future multi-modal improvements.
In recent years, a combination of air quality concerns, a large commuter population, and an increasing downtown population spurred heavy investment in transit and active transportation such as walking or bicycling. In terms of air quality, Salt Lake City ranks in the top U.S. cities for acute spikes in air pollution. According to the Utah Department of Air Quality, approximately 55 percent of harmful air pollution comes from mobile sources such as cars and trucks. Meanwhile, regional commuters increase Salt Lake City’s daytime population by 72 percent every day, with over 50 percent of all transit trips starting and ending in downtown Salt Lake City. At the same time, the number of downtown residents continues to increase, with approximately 550 new downtown housing units constructed since 2009. All these factors and more combine to support walking, biking and transit as priorities for Salt Lake City.
Take a Walk
Within a short walk of downtown, one can find pleasant parks, trails, and neighborhood business districts perfect for strolling in the shade. About one mile to the south of downtown, Liberty Park offers a tree-lined jogging, walking and biking path, as well as fountains, a pond and refurbished aviary. From there, a few blocks to the east, a host of local businesses offer dining and entertainment at the 9th and 9th Business District, profiled in the Washington Post as a “dynamic neighborhood with small businesses and room to stroll in” (November 14, 2013).
Just over a mile to the west, the burgeoning Central 9th neighborhood business district offers another hip coffee shop, as well as a community garden, an organic diner, and a convenient TRAX light rail station with direct connections to downtown and the airport. Other prime walking destinations near downtown include City Creek Canyon, which climbs directly to the Wasatch Mountains, and the Jordan River Parkway Trail, a meandering multi-use path located one mile to the west of the Central Business District.
Ride a Bike
Six years ago, Salt Lake City’s Mayor Ralph Becker emerged as Utah’s leading advocate for bicycling as a convenient transportation option. With over 50 miles of new bike lanes installed in the past three years, a quadrupling of funding for new bikeways since 2007, and the launch of the GREENbike Bike Share Program in 2013, the results of Mayor Becker’s efforts appear in the large number of bicycles traversing the Salt Lake City’s streets. With one of the ubiquitous green bike-share bikes, one can easily reach any destination within the four square miles of downtown Salt Lake City. For longer rides on the city’s bikeway network and into the nearby canyons, numerous local bike shops offer daily and weekly rentals.
Hop a Train
Commuter rail and light rail play perhaps the most prominent roles in Salt Lake City’s transportation system. The Utah Transit Authority’s network now includes 88 miles of Frontrunner commuter rail and 45 miles of TRAX light rail lines across the Wasatch Front, including a new line from the Salt Lake International Airport to downtown, which opened in 2013. In the Sugarhouse neighborhood, the brand-new S-Line streetcar connects from TRAX light rail to dining, shopping and entertainment in the heart of one of Utah’s most bohemian residential neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, local and regional bus service complements this backbone of rail service, providing access to neighborhoods and destinations across the Wasatch Front. As of 2014, all Salt Lake City residents can access this network with the HIVE Pass, an innovative annual pass which charges an affordable monthly fee with public utility billings.
For more ambitious travelers, the “PC Connect,” a public express bus, runs from the heart of Salt Lake City into downtown Park City. Here one can hike and bike from town or enjoy the upscale Main Street, which annually plays host to Hollywood’s elite at the Sundance Film Festival.
Current plans include a number of additional improvements to the transportation network, such as an extension of the Sugarhouse S-Line streetcar, a new downtown streetcar line, and a network of downtown protected bike lanes to support a doubling of the Bike Share program in 2014. A new Downtown Master Plan looks to emphasize walkability, as do improvements in neighborhood business districts throughout the city.
While in town, take a ride on the S-Line streetcar, stroll to a coffee shop at 9th and 9th, or ride a GREENbike to a downtown restaurant, and enjoy all the options offered by Salt Lake City’s expanding transportation network.
Colin Quinn-Hurst is a transportation planner for the Division of Transportation in the Salt Lake City Corporation.
Published in the February/March 2014 Issue