By Chad Mullins
Salt Lake City’s Transportation Division has been convening a University to Downtown bikeway focus group; this is part of the City’s current effort to update the Bicycle/Pedestrian Master Plan. The City is currently seeking ideas to improve walking and bicycling in Salt Lake City on the “Open City Hall.” You can give them your suggestions at their “Open City Hall” website: http://www.slcgov.com/opencityhall
Here are my thoughts and suggestions on the University to Downtown bikeway based upon my participation on the focus group. The focus is on enhancing a low-stress, family-friendly bike corridor and pedestrian environment. 300 South was recommended in the downtown area since it has already been successfully traffic-calmed with the reduction of travel lanes. Furthermore, it is a direct route to such family friendly activities as the Farmer’s Market at Pioneer Park.
200 South should remain a direct bike route with bike lanes for the confident and experienced cyclist. However, further enhancements on 200 South will not remove the major barriers for less confident cyclists: the heavy bus traffic, the shared “green lane” between Main and State Streets, the narrow shared lane or sub-standard bike lane through the section with a center median, the narrow and extremely steep section where 200 South splits and climbs the hill towards 1300 East, the busy commercial section between 1300 East and University Street, and the confusing intersection at 200 South and University Street.
If the objective is create a comfortable, bike-friendly environment that will encourage more cyclists to ride on the downtown streets, enhancing 200 South will not meet the needs of the majority of cyclists. Most people prefer to ride in a more protected and less challenging environment. The hardy and confident cyclists who are currently using 200 South as their preferred bike route will continue to use 200 South as a direct route, but the majority of cyclists will not be comfortable on 200 South with or without enhancements. 300 South provides a lower-stress environment in the vicinity of downtown for the majority of cyclists and is easily accessed from 200 South.
Comments at the meeting emphasized the concerns of less experienced cyclists that the steepness of the grade on the east side super-ceded all other concerns. This favors the South Temple route since the gradual gradient of this route to University St. is about half that of the other routes. However, South Temple presents other challenges to less confident cyclists on the western end. One suggestion is to offer alternative routes on the eastern end to cyclists looking for a less steep grade to and from the University; 1100 East makes an excellent north-south connecting bike corridor for those looking for a lower grade alternative to either 200 or 300 South. 1100 East connects cyclists with both 400 South and South Temple as less steep alternatives. In addition, the south side of South Temple, east of 1100 East, has ample room on the shoulder for an uphill bike lane separated from traffic.
Providing less steep and challenging alternate routes in addition to 200 S. has the additional advantage of connecting cyclists with different parts of the University campus depending upon their destination, skill level and appetite for hill climbing. The South Temple route is especially useful for bike commuters wishing to access the northern end of campus at either Wolcott or North Campus Drive. Many cyclists use North Campus Drive to access the University medical complex and health sciences. The University’s Bicycle Master Plan recommends improvements to North Campus Drive as a bike corridor.
In conclusion, offering cyclists a choice of connected alternate bike routes between the University and downtown will accommodate the needs of a much larger group of cycling skills and serve more destinations.
Note: There was an alternate route suggestion to avoid the steepest section of 200 South to the University : take a right on Elizabeth St. east (above) 1100 East from 200 South one block, then a left onto 300 South and continue east on to the University. This avoids the steepest segments of 200 and 300 South.
Remember the more bicyclists we have on the streets, the safer it becomes for everyone.