Complete Streets

By Chad Mullins

During a whirlwind of events last week, visiting transportation experts shared their “Complete Streets” expertise with Utah public officials, planners and traffic engineers (“Transportation experts calling for ‘complete streets’,” Salt Lake Tribune, Mar.22; “Session aims at safer streets for cyclists, pedestrians,” Salt Lake Tribune, Mar. 21). A full-day workshop with Utah’s transportation officials demonstrated how local communities would benefit from a “Complete Streets” redesign to accommodate bicyclists, pedestrians and mass transit.

The “Complete Streets” approach results in a street appropriate to its setting—be it rural or urban, residential or commercial—and which meets the transportation needs of its potential users. In addition to improving safety and aesthetics, a well-designed “Complete Street” system provides users with mobility choices and access to modes of transportation. automobile.

Consider how a “Complete Streets” redesign would impact two of the many Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) road-improvement projects now being considered or in the planning stage. 5400 South, the “main street” of Kearns, is a congested suburban street on the west side of the valley, serving both local residents and commuters. On the other side of the valley, Foothill Drive is a heavily trafficked urban street, serving residents in the southeast sector of Salt Lake City who are commuting to the University of Utah or downtown.

With the support of surrounding communities, the Wasatch Front Regional Council and Salt Lake County have designated 5400 South a priority east-west bicycle route and have recommended incorporating bike lanes into a “Complete Streets” redesign. A number of studies point to the traffic-calming effect of bicycle lanes. The upshot would be a pedestrian-friendly street that serves the needs of the young or old, drivers or walkers or bus riders, wheelchairs and bicycles. But if the 5400 South “improvement” project merely adds more lanes, it will be an “incomplete street”—a wider, high-speed thoroughfare splitting Kearns in two, destroying any sense of community or any semblance of a “main street.”

As reported in the 2008 Foothill Drive Corridor Study, bicyclists are currently discouraged from using Foothill Drive. The existing bicycle routes take cyclists into the neighborhoods along the roadway, a bone of contention with the East Bench Neighborhood Council. According to the transportation experts, the redesign of Foothill Drive provides an excellent opportunity to apply “Complete Streets” principles to better accommodate the multiplicity of users and to provide a safe and attractive environment for pedestrians, bicyclists and transit, as well as motorists. The addition of bike lanes would be one component of a “complete” Foothill Drive.

Communities want pedestrian-friendly streets. They want streets which serve the needs of everyone in the community, whether young or old, driving or walking, riding in a wheelchair or on a bicycle, or catching a bus. The “Complete Streets” approach provides the necessary tools to improve and protect the character of our communities. Without the vocal support of citizens, planners and public officials will opt for expediency. Foothill Boulevard and 5400 South will be redesigned to favor the automobile.

The lesson of HB 477 is that concerned citizens can make a difference. This is another opportunity to speak out strongly in favor of the comprehensive transportation system we deserve. If you favor a “complete” transportation solution, phone or email your City or County Council Member and Mayor’s Office. (Contact information for Salt Lake City Council: email – [email protected], Salt Lake City Mayor: [email protected], phone – 801-535-7704; Salt Lake County: email – [email protected], phone the Mayor’s Office – 801.468.2500; for public comments to UDOT on 5400 South: phone: 855-540-0740, email: [email protected])

[Note: This editorial also appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune]

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