Editorial: UDOT Roads Need to be Better For Cyclists and Pedestrians at the University of Utah

UDOT Needs to Include Bicycle and Pedestrian Infrastructure in 2018 University of Utah Campus Road Repaving

Editorial by Dave Iltis • Editor, Cycling Utah

May 7, 2018 – This summer, the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) will be repaving the roads around the University of Utah starting today, May 7, 2018 and extending through August 2018. The extensive repaving project from what we can discern, will barely take into account bicyclists and pedestrians, especially on North Campus Drive from the Kennecott Mining Building to Mario Capecchi Drive. The University of Utah's informational page on the repaving contains only a request that commuters use transit, carpool, or e-bikes but says nothing about whether bike and pedestrian infrastructure will be added to the campus roadways. UDOT's page indicates that bike infrastructure will only be added on Mario Capecchi Drive near Foothill Drive. 

UDOT will be repaving the roads around the University of Utah Campus in 2018. Graphic from the University of Utah repaving page: https://community.utah.edu/community/repaving-around-u/
UDOT will be repaving the roads around the University of Utah Campus in 2018. Graphic from the University of Utah repaving page: https://community.utah.edu/community/repaving-around-u/

North Campus Drive and the adjacent streets are key connectors from downtown to the medical complex of the University of Utah for motorized vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians. For cyclists and pedestrians to travel from the Avenues district and Federal Heights to the east part of the campus, there are few options – Federal Heights Way is the preferred route, but it is fraught with peril at the intersection of this road with N. Campus Drive. It is sad irony that there are few healthy ways to transport to the University of Utah Health Complex.

Unfortunately, the area  also contains, in our view, one of the least safe intersections in Salt Lake City – that of North Campus Drive and Federal Heights Drive. 
 
It’s time for UDOT, Salt Lake City, and the University of Utah to come together to make accessing the upper part of campus safer via pedal or foot.
 
The intersection is in Salt Lake City’s 2015 update to the Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan, as well as in the University of Utah’s Bicycle Master Plan. UDOT seems to be unwilling to consider anything but a car-first approach to the roads around perhaps the most heavily used bicycle commuter destination in the state. From the University of Utah's Bicycle Master Plan, page 71: 

UDOT-controlled intersection, but Federal Heights Dr is a city street; work with UDOT/SLC to provide safe bicycle access; consider diverter islands (with SB left turn for bikes) on Federal Heights Dr rather than center median on North Campus Dr.

 
It has been on the list of wanted improvements for bicycle advocates for over 20 years (see very old minutes from the MBAC). It was repaved just a couple of year’s ago, and UDOT did nothing then, and appears to be poised to do nothing again to improve safety and access for alternative modes of transportation to the medical and genetics section of campus.
 
Recent tweets indicate that the U would like the intersection improved. Recent tweets also indicate that UDOT is unwilling to do much of anything to improve safety in this area despite starting the repaving process of the area roadways.
 
Cyclists traveling southbound on Federal Heights Way wanting to get to the University have several poor choices. 
 
1. They can veer across Federal Heights Way at N. Campus Drive to go on to the steep pathway. This is fine under a few conditions: a. The cyclist is a good bike handler and can navigate up the short steep hill. b. That they can safely cross N. Campus Drive at either Mario Capecchi and then navigate traffic on Mario Capecchi. Or, that they can safely cross in the crosswalk roughly at the U of U Hospital entrance and then proceed eastward on N. Campus Drive to the parking lots that can take them to the various buildings in the eastern section of campus. c. That there are no cars turning west on to Federal Heights Way. Cars turning here are coming down the hill at a higher rate of speed, and won’t likely see a cyclist navigating onto the pathway. 
 
2. They can travel westbound on the pathway to Penrose, and then they are stuck, since the pathway goes nowhere from there, and there is no safe crossing of N. Campus Drive there either.
 
3. They can go the wrong way for about 75 feet on N. Campus Drive and then cross to the eastbound lane. Note that this is illustrated in a photo (page B-2) in the University of Utah Bicycle Master Plan (photo credit Dave Iltis). We observed this behavior (desire line) several years ago and were able to photograph it, and have also observed it on many other occasions. Additionally, we have observed automobiles repeating this wrong way behavior. 
A cyclist heads the wrong way on N. Campus Drive in order to get to the University of Utah. No safe options exist. Photo by Dave Iltis
A cyclist heads the wrong way on N. Campus Drive in order to get to the University of Utah. No safe options exist. Photo by Dave Iltis
 
4. Bicyclists, but not pedestrians, can travel westbound on N. Campus Drive and then navigate to Central Campus Drive or Wasatch Blvd, which then leaves them without great options to get to the eastern section of the U.
 

What are some possible solutions?

 
We would suggest that UDOT honor both the 2011 University of Utah Bicycle Master Plan as well as the Salt Lake City Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan. Looking at the greater area of campus, and seeking solutions to allow safe and health cycling and walking to the health complex is imperative. 
 
• The University of Utah Bicycle Master Plan has an intersection configuration that could work. Another would be to put in a bicycle and pedestrian only signal to allow crossing of N. Campus Drive to the pathway to the south.
A potential configuration for the intersection of N. Campus Drive and Federal Heights Drive in Salt Lake City. Graphic from the University of Utah 2011 Bicycle Master Plan, B-3
A potential configuration for the intersection of N. Campus Drive and Federal Heights Drive in Salt Lake City. Graphic from the University of Utah 2011 Bicycle Master Plan, B-3
 
• Another improvement might be to put a crosswalk across Federal Heights Way in the east-west direction. Combine this with caution bike signage for westbound N. Campus Drive automobile traffic, and maybe drivers would be made award of cyclists and pedestrians in the area. If cyclists continue to have to use the crosswalk across from the University of Utah Hospital entrance, then additional signage could be placed there too. This is not an ideal option, but it would be workable with little help required from UDOT.
 
• Reassess North Campus Drive. Could the lanes be narrowed to 10’ or 11’, the speed limit lowered, and bike lanes installed? Our guess is that yes, this could happen. The speeds are often very high on the roadway, which is not healthy for students and other University travelers. Alternatively, perhaps removing a travel lane from each direction would allow for a calmer and safer campus environment.
 
• Reassess Mario Capecchi Drive and South Campus Drive. Can these roads be configured to have bicycle lanes, as well as better pedestrian accommodations? Our guess is that most certainly they can be made better. Particularly Mario Capecchi Drive from the intersection of North Campus Drive to South Campus Drive.
 
The University of Utah is a commuter campus, where parking is at a premium. The same goes for the health complexes on the east side of campus. Our top notch university deserves top notch active transportation options. The health and safety of University commuters is at stake, not to mention our air quality, CO2 output, and pocketbooks (yes, it's cheaper to walk and bike than to drive).
 
Doing nothing for pedestrian and bicycle safety on UDOT's University of Utah Campus roads is not an option, or at least shouldn’t be after 20 plus years of inaction.
 
To Comment:
 If you would like to comment, please email: [email protected]
 Ask UDOT to make the University of Utah safer and more accessible to bicyclists and pedestrians on UDOT owned roads.
 
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