Trapped in your own neighborhood

Trapped in your own neighborhood

Editorial by Chad Mullins, Chair, Salt Lake County Bicycle Advisory Committee

Our roads combined with the advent of the automobile once gave us the freedom and luxury to go most anywhere in America we desired.   Now as highway engineers continue down the road expansion pathway, we find ourselves trapped in our own neighborhoods.

Limited access roads, intersections too big to cross, interchanges too dangerous to cross, roads with no shoulders, and higher speed limits are restricting the use of our major streets to motorists who are only passing through to get somewhere else.  What happens when you are surrounded by these mega-roads?  You can no longer walk to the local grocery store, barber shop or coffee shop for a quart of milk, the newspaper or a cup of coffee with friends.  You may no longer be able to visit the neighbor who lives on the other side of your street.  You and your kids can no longer ride a bike more than a mile from your house without being trapped by a mega-road.  Do you want your kids riding in the congested travel lane of a 6 or 8 lane super-street with speeding cars and trucks, or on the adjacent narrow sidewalk with traffic speeding by at 40 mph.

If you observe these neighborhoods you seldom see anyone on the sidewalk, except for bicyclists.  They are riding on the sidewalk because they no longer feel safe on the arterial roads.  The bicyclists are mostly younger adolescents and older adults, who probably do not drive or own a car, and therefore have no alternative means of transportation.  They are trapped in their own neighborhoods.

Other parts of the nation and the Federal government have taken notice and are advocating measures to avoid the destruction of neighborhoods and to protect livable communities.  In Utah however, it is the same old “build more lanes” mentality to accommodate the projected growth and traffic needs.

Failing to provide facilities for road users other than motorists blatantly ignores Federal policy.  Quoting from the 2008 US DOT Design Guidance for Accommodating Bicycle and Pedestrian Travel and the March 2010 US DOT Policy Statement:

“Bicycle and pedestrian ways shall be established in new construction and reconstruction projects in all urbanized areas . . . the design of intersections and interchanges shall accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians in a manner that is safe, accessible and convenient.  “The establishment of well-connected walking and bicycling networks is an important component for livable communities, and their design should be a part of Federal-aid project developments.”

The Utah Department of Transportation’s relentless drive towards ever more arterial road capacity is described in the 2008 UDOT Salt Lake County East-West Transportation Planning Study HB 108, which details the massive near-term and longer term road expansion plans.  East-west arterial road projects from 4100 South to 13400 South, including intersections and interchanges at Redwood Road, I-215 and Bangerter Highway are already underway, either in planning or construction.

One of the proposed improvements is the $6.1 million Bangerter Highway and 4100 South intersection project, one of three new intersections proposed for 4100 South.  What makes 4100 South unique is that the West Valley City General Plan identifies 4100 South as a bicycle route with bicycle lanes, a proposed 4100 South road improvement project further west incorporates Class 2 bike lanes, and both the Wasatch Front Regional Council (MPO) and the Salt Lake County Cooperative Plan identify 4100 South as a primary, core bicycle route for the region.  In spite of this, the project as proposed ignores the needs of bicyclists, even though the majority of the funding comes from the Federal CMAQ (Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program).

None of the planned projects incorporate facilities to accommodate bicyclists, and good luck trying to negotiate these streets if you are a pedestrian.  For example, to cross the Bangerter Highway at one of the major intersections, which are spaced one mile or more apart, you will have a 5 minute journey as a pedestrian or bicyclist walking your bike up and down the ramps and across the pedestrian bridge.  There are no crosswalks since it is deemed too far and too dangerous to attempt such a crossing.  What happened to building roads and neighborhoods for people?

Transportation investments need to provide balanced transportation choices and encourage safe and convenient pedestrian, bicycle, public transit and automobile trips.  Why are we sacrificing existing neighborhoods to accommodate the growth of new neighborhoods, ever further distant, when there are shared solutions that can integrate the transportation needs of all road users, those who live next door as well as those just passing through.

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

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