Sunday, August 07, 2005

Skybridges in Salt Lake's Future?

A couple of days ago, on the Doug Wright show on KSL Radio, I listened to Mayor Rocky Anderson talk again about the proposed downtown redevelopement project by the LDS Church of the two downtown malls and other areas. While I disagree with Mayor Rocky on a number of things, I do agree with him that public involvement in the planning of those areas is important and should start soon. I think the longer the LDS Church and their developer of choice, Taubman Associates, wait to involve the public, the more contentious the process could become as the public perceive that all the major decisions are a "done deal."

The city will have to go through a public process in reviewing and approving the project -- it may be unfair to put them behind the eight ball by presenting them a final concept and saying "don't change this much or we'll walk away!"

One of the issues Mayor Anderson raised is the potential for a skybridge between the two malls. He decried the idea, saying it was a bad one that hasn't worked well in other places around the country. He may be right.

The Tribune today published a story from the New York Times about skybridges, saying that many cities do not like them because they keep people off the streets, and some are trying to remove them.

I tend to agree with this view. A couple of years ago, I had occassion to spend some time in Oklahoma City, which has an extensive system of skyways. There was absolutely no pedestrian life at the street level -- everyone during the daytime was moving around on the skybridges. I have rarely seen downtown city streets as dead as those I saw in Oklahoma City, so I think there is a valid point.

On the other hand, my oldest soon spent considerable time living near downtown Minneapolis, and he said the skybridge system there is great, everyone loves it, and street life in the city doesn't seem to be that affected by it.

Now, the one that may be proposed by Taubman for Salt Lake City may be only one bridge connecting the two redeveloped malls, so the impact on downtown Salt Lake may be minimal. Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce President Lane Beattie was also on the Doug Wright show right after Mayor Anderson, and he emphasized that the skybridge may be needed to connect the two malls to make them function more like one, and that may be valid. There isn't an entire system of skybridges planned here.

But let's be cautious about this. Downtown Salt Lake City streets are already pretty light on foot traffic and storefront businesses. Let's not make it worse.

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