Salt Lake City’s Funding Our Future – Bond and Sales Tax – is a Great Opportunity for Biking and Walking, But Lacks Vision

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Editorial and Commentary by Dave Iltis • Editor

Salt Lake City's Funding Our Future could create better biking in the city, if it comes up with a vision. Photo by Dave Iltis
Salt Lake City's Funding Our Future could create better biking in the city, if it comes up with a vision. Photo by Dave Iltis

Salt Lake City has embarked on the Funding Our Future process to add funding to the city coffers through two methods. The first is the recently passed city sales tax increase that will add 0.5% to the current 6.85%. The second is a one-time $87 million bond for streets. The tax will raise $33 million/year that will be designated for four key areas in the city (from the Funding Our Future website http://fundingourfutureslc.com ): Improved Street Conditions, Greater Housing Opportunities, Better Transit Service, Increased Neighborhood Safety and Security. In this editorial, we will talk mostly about streets and transit.

The bond is up for vote in November of 2018.

The city sales tax increase was authorized by the Utah State Legislature in conjunction with the dreadful relocation of the Utah State Prison to the Northwest Quadrant and passed by the Salt Lake City Council. According to Salt Lake City, there has not been a sales tax increase in over 20 years. It should be noted that sales and user taxes and fees tend to be much more regressive than income taxes, and tend to impact lower income people more so than higher income people relative to the percent of their overall income that goes to taxes. On the other hand, sales taxes tend to decrease consumption by increasing the costs of goods sold, and from a global climate perspective, this is probably a good thing. But, we aren't going to delve into those issues further in this editorial.

As cyclists and an alternative transportation advocates, we are very happy to see additional funding for road repair and for transit, both of which need major improvement in Salt Lake City. The tax alone looks like it will provide $6.9 million for roads and just shy of $5.4 million for transit in 2018-2019. Funding will continue for years to come. Salt Lake City's roads are in dreadful disrepair, and this creates hazards for cyclists as well as motorists. Road resurfacing projects could result in more bike lanes if the Mayor doesn't veto them as she did on 2100 S. If a street is slated for bike lanes according to the 2015 Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan, the funding should (but may not) result in additional bike infrastructure. The $87 million bond will help Salt Lake catch up on the backlog of repairing its broken streets.

Funding Our Future dovetails with Salt Lake County's sales tax increase for transportation. This Prop 1 do-over was authorized by first the Utah State Legislature and then the Salt Lake County Council in 2018. Senate Bill 136 authorizes a 0.25% increase in sales tax that can go for roads and active transportation (bicycling and walking). Along with safety enhancements, roads, and more, the tax can be used “ the construction, maintenance, or operation of an active transportation facility that is for nonmotorized vehicles and multimodal transportation and connects an origin with a destination.” This likely means multi-purpose trails too.

Wilmington Avenue was recently reconstructed in Sugarhouse complete with new bike lanes. Photo by Dave Iltis
Wilmington Avenue was recently reconstructed in Sugarhouse complete with new bike lanes. Photo by Dave Iltis

The bottom line is that in with Funding Our Future and the County sales tax increase, Salt Lake City will have a lot more money to spend on roads and hence on walking and biking infrastructure. They need it because of the really poor condition of the streets.

Coupled with the incredible staff in the Salt Lake City Transportation Division (the best yet for active transportation), good things may happen!

All well and good.

What's missing?

The most glaring omission from the Funding Our Future program is a lack of a cohesive vision from Mayor Biskupski. While all of the items in the sales tax, and the bond are clearly important to Salt Lake City, they seem to be four disparate ideas stapled together in random fashion, without a clear vision for the future of Salt Lake.

As for the details, we see four major problems.

1. Salt Lake City has no current Transportation Master Plan. The Transportation Division website (https://www.slc.gov/transportation/ ) shows that the most current plan is from 1996! In searching, it appears as though there was an update to the transportation master plan in 2006, but this is unclear (see: http://www.slcdocs.com/Planning/MasterPlansMaps/TMP.pdf ). Regardless, Salt Lake City is operating without an coherent or current plan. Salt Lake City has a current Transit Master Plan from 2017, the Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan from 2015, a Sugarhouse Circulation Plan, and an often ignored Downtown in Motion Plan but no current Transportation Master Plan. And, an unreleased parking inventory study from 2016 (why is it still unreleased?).

2. The second major problem relating to Funding Our Future and transportation is Salt Lake City's weak Complete Streets Ordinance. Ostensibly, this should result in rapid deployment of bicycle, pedestrian, and transit infrastructure when streets are rebuilt. The devil is in the details here, as pavement rehabilitation, slurry seals, chips seals, and general resurfacing projects are not covered by the ordinance. Only major reconstruction projects or new streets qualify. Thus, Complete Streets in Salt Lake City are not as much a part of our future as they should be.

3. The third major problem is the limited scope of the bond, which will only be for street reconstruction. Street construction is sorely needed. But the bond and Funding Our Future doesn't address any of the topics in the 2015 Recreation Bond discussion – better trails, parks, and recreation opportunities. The Salt Lake City Council *promised* to revisit this in 2016, but they never did, and the desire by residents for better recreation facilities continues to go unmet. This bond would have been a great opportunity to fund a future that isn't just fixing potholes, but a future for a city that has great infrastructure and great amenities.

4. The fourth major problem is that the Funding Our Future website seems to indicate that Salt Lake City may be developing it's own bus network since there is no mention of UTA. If not, then the language on the dashboard page is misleading (http://fundingourfutureslc.com/critical-needs-dashboard/better-transit-service/ ). Additionally, there is no funding listed for Salt Lake City's extremely successful GreenBike bikeshare program, a crucial part of the transit system (maybe this is in the details).

Recommendations for Funding Our Future:

  1. Create a new mission and vision for Funding Our Future – this could be something like, “Funding Our Future will create both great infrastructure and great amenities for Salt Lake City's Future through better transportation, housing, safety, and recreation.”
  2. Mayor Biskupski and the City Council need to immediately commit to funding and updating the Salt Lake City Transportation Master Plan before any money is spent from the bond. This is needed to give vision and direction to the street reconstruction projects, rather than a piecemeal approach with no coherent vision. Streets need to be rebuilt and repaired with a forward thinking strategy, not just filling of potholes. It is hubris to ask for $87 million dollars for road reconstruction without a plan for how this fits in. Much of the bond and sales tax is about transportation, and creating a plan would mean that money would be efficiently spent to modernize the city's roads and pathways. Our ideas for the master plan are here: http://www.cyclingutah.com/advocacy/editorial-salt-lake-city-needs-sustainable-progressive-safe-people-first-transportation-policy/
  3. Recreation amenities need to be added to the bond. Yes, it will increase the dollars in the bond, but it would meet a great need and desire of Salt Lake City's residents – that of more recreation opportunities. Particularly, we would encourage adding funding to construct Salt Lake City's new Trails Plan, which would cost in the neighborhood of $3 million (our guesstimate). And it would be in line with the Council keeping its promise from 2015. Our ideas for a Recreational Cycling Plan in Salt Lake City are here: http://www.cyclingutah.com/advocacy/a-proposal-for-a-salt-lake-city-recreational-cycling-plan/
  4. In line with sustainability goals, we would encourage the addition of $5-10 million to radically jumpstart the bicycle and pedestrian master plan. This would allow rapid deployment of on-street bicycle facilities and the construction of trails such as the Folsom Trail, the Surplus Canal Trail, and the extension of the 9-Line Trail, among others. (http://www.cyclingutah.com/advocacy/editorial-2017-2018-budget-salt-lake-city-needs-triple-funding-bicyclists-complete-bike-master-plan-5-years/ )
  5. Also in line with sustainability and housing goals, Salt Lake City's zoning regulations regarding parking and housing need to be immediately reworked. Parking adds $225/month in rent to units in Salt Lake City (ftp://ftrftp.slcgov.com/RDA/attachments/7-12-16-8.A.PARKINGSTUDY.pdf ). More parking contributes to more demand for cars, more cars on the road, and hence more damage to the roads. More cars are bad for health, air quality, congestion, and bicycling. Given this, Salt Lake City really needs to focus on reducing motor vehicles in the city prior to funding our future. By doing so, housing will be more affordable, sustainability will improve, and transportation will be better.

We support both sales tax increases despite their regressive nature, since there are few better options without a change at the state level. And, we will be voting for the streets bond and looking forward to better streets, but as citizens of Salt Lake, we want a vision from its Mayor on what our future will look like.

How you can comment:

Please visit: http://fundingourfutureslc.com

Take the survey:

https://slcgov.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_a5Z9aTc8LSJ9nQV

Send comments to the Mayor: [email protected]

Send comments to the City Council: [email protected]

Register to vote, and vote on the bond in November.

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