Sunday, October 29, 2006

Expand Transportation Options

Another opinion piece is in the papers this morning supporting the passage of the transportation propositions that are on the ballot this November in Salt Lake and Utah counties. In my mind, there is no question that these questions should pass to help us expand our transportation systems and give more travel options to commuters.

As I've said in the past, I believe that the transportation sytem is the "skeleton" of a metropolitan area, on which we hang the substance of its character (the kinds of homes and businesses that make it up). The Wasatch Front metropolitan area is somewhat unique in that it is long and relatively skinny -- we have natural urban growth boundaries with the mountains to our east and the Great Salt Lake/desert to our west. Such a configuration allows transit to work particularly well, because much of our daily commerce moves along in narrow corridors.

The downside, however, is the complex pattern of commuting that has developed in recent years. The latest edition of on-going studies of our commuting patterns by Alan Pisarski points out that the dominant commute these days is not suburbs to central city, but suburb to suburb. I see evidence of this by just looking at the commuters who live in my neighborhood in Kaysville. Only a couple of them travel to downtown Salt Lake City -- most go to a great variety of destinations: LakePark, International Center, Draper, University of Utah, one even drives to Orem every day.

I asked the Wasatch Front Regional Council staff if they had good figures on what percentage of Davis County commuters goes to downtown Salt Lake each day -- their answer was about 10-15%. Our transit system, however, is primarily focused on getting people to and from downtown Salt Lake.

I have long maintained that even with the best and most extensive transit system, it will accomodate only around 10% of the commute, because that is the most it does in other metro areas. And yet, even with that fairly paltry number, I feel that it is needed, for a couple of reasons.

First, in sizeable metro areas around the world today, there has to be another way to get around other than by car because it just isn't possible for many to drive, and because it gives everyone options. If I have to go in to Salt Lake on a given day, and if I hear on the traffic report that there is a bad accident blocking I-15, or its a bad weather day, I have no option right now other than to drive (or take the express bus, which will also have to sit in traffic). We need options to keep our population appropriately mobile.

Second, I believe it is an indication of the relative strength and vitality of a metro area to have a good transit system. It is a factor in economic development, so to speak. It says to the world, "Salt Lake City is a world-class player, it has an extensive transit system." It's just one of those things that business people seem to look at when they contemplate making investments in different areas.

So vote for the transportation questions on the ballot right now. We need it, it is necessary, but just keep in mind, it won't be a panacea.


At 7:57 PM, Blogger Brenda said...

Although the transit system will "focus" on downtown, there is no doubt that a system that casts a wider net and includes more lines will serve more places and have more riders. Downtown will be convenient, but so will the U and Sandy, and downtown Ogden, for example.

At 1:18 PM, Blogger Wilf said...

Brenda, you raise a good point. Transit can work both ways, and with a metro area as relatively narrow and long as ours, it may work well to have people take transit out to these other areas, rather than just in to the central city.

However, to work well, there must be a good transit system in place to distribute riders around in Ogden and Sandy and at Hill Air Force Base, etc. Rare will be the rider who can catch the train to one of these places and then walk a short distance to his ultimate destination. What are UTA's plans for this?


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