City seeks input on draft Transit Master Plan

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A Blue Line TRAX train waits at the Gallivan Station in downtown Salt Lake City. Photo courtesy UTA.

Over a year since the Salt Lake City officials launched an aggressive public outreach to gather feedback on the city’s first ever Transit Master Plan, officials are again asking residents to weigh in before the plan goes before the Salt Lake City Council for final approval.

The process to create a transit plan in September 2013 when the Salt Lake City Council set goals to improve transit quality and the transit passenger experience. In response, the city began drafting the Transit Master Plan to help Salt Lake City and Utah Transit Authority (UTA) meet set goals and expand transit use. The project officially started in January 2015, bringing together stakeholders and residents.

The plan’s top priorities include implementing a frequent transit network (FTN), developing pilot programs and partnerships for employer shuttles and on-demand shared ride services, developing enhanced bus corridors, implementing a number of transit-supportive programs and improvements to transit access.

An initial priority is to improve service on 200 South, an important east-west transit corridor for bus service between downtown and the University of Utah.  Other recommended corridors for transit capital improvements include State Street/500 East/900 East, 400 South, 900 South and 1300 South/California Avenue, and TRAX light rail (improvements to resolve capacity issues that prevent direct service between Salt Lake International Airport and University of Utah). Support for regional transit on corridors such as Redwood Road, Foothill Boulevard, and Beck Street is also being called for.

Setting FTN’s as the centerpiece of its proposal, Salt Lake City is embarking on a 20-year course that envisions a much more efficient transit experience for Salt Lakers by 2040.  By that time the city expects the population to grow by 40,000 new residents and 20,000 new employees,  73 percent of which the city expects will be within a quarter-mile of the FTN.

According to planning staff in the draft plan, “Salt Lake City’s existing, centralized hub model is effective for regional connections but is inefficient for some local trips.  Currently, many of UTA’s routes terminate at Central Station, which provides good connectivity to commuter rail service, but creates challenges for people who need to travel to other destinations throughout the city, necessitating multiple transfers and/or indirect trips. The FTN builds on Salt Lake City’s strong street network grid.” executive summary draft. “Once adopted, it is critical that the FTN become a stable, relatively unchanging part of the transit system that offers riders the same level of reliability as the TRAX system.”

Planning staff suggest that “once adopted, it is critical that the FTN become a stable, relatively unchanging part of the transit system that offers riders the same level of reliability as the TRAX system.”

The plan also looks at the importance of improving bus stop accommodations.  Currently, only 17 percent of bus stops in Salt Lake City have benches or shelters to protect from inclement weather.

The city contends that now is the perfect time to reassess public transit service. A number of factors are in play here, including changing demographics and transportation preferences. Millennials (those who were born between 1981 and 1997) are driving less and relying more on public transportation. According to the Federal Highway Administration, from 2001-2009 those between the ages of 16 and 34 took 40 percent more transit trips and 23 percent fewer driving trips. This statistic seems to have been born out in the city’s report, where they found that 62 percent of UTA passengers in Salt Lake City are 34 or younger. 31 percent are between the ages of 18 and 24. As a point of comparison, only 14 percent of Salt Lake City’s population is 18 to 24 years old.

According to city transportation officials, in order for the plan to be successful, new goals need to include strengthening the city’s partnership with UTA, obtaining new local transit funding sources, and increasing coordination between city departments. The plan calls for establishing more public-private partnerships and raises the idea of expanding the Transit Station Area Zoning District to include the FTN corridors in an attempt to encourage private sector participation.

Finally, the Transit Master Plan is to be a “living” document. So as time moves forward and changes inevitably take place, the plan can be adapted to fit new circumstances.

Members of the public can provide feedback via Open City Hall and can view the draft plan online at slcrides.org. Residents can obtain a hard copy of the plan by visiting the Salt Lake City Transportation Division, 349 South 200 East, Suite 150, during regular business hours (8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.). The public review period concludes at midnight on Monday, November 7.  City officials will brief the Salt Lake City Planning Commission during the commission’s formal meeting November 9, 2016, at 5:30 at the City and County Building.

About Ryan D. Curtis 7 Articles
Ryan Curtis first became a published writer at the age of 13, when his letter to the editor was published in the Deseret News. Since then, he has had more than 100 letters published in seven newspapers — including the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Daily News. After stints working on the Ben McAdams for Salt Lake County Mayor and Brad Bartholomew for Salt Lake City Council campaigns, Ryan began to pursue a career in journalism. He has written for Utah Political Capitol, KSL.com, Deseret News, Journal of Mormon History, and QSaltLake Magazine. A proud native of West Valley City, Ryan currently resides in Salt Lake City's Glendale neighborhood. He can be reached at ryancurtis4218@gmail.com.