This week City Weekly published an article attacking the Utah Transit Authority. With CNU 21 in town, I don’t think the article’s timing was coincidence. I finally got a chance to read the article and would like to provide my criticism. However, I hope that my criticism doesn’t alienate City Weekly and would welcome the opportunity to give City Weekly my perspective on the issues at hand.
First off, seeking a critique of mass transit from Randal O’Toole is a lot like seeking advice on contraception from Rick Santorum! His assumptions are grounded in the thinking that cars are a necessity, while transit (or at least transit for those who could be driving) is a luxury. Those of us, who have studied books like Suburban Nation or watched the PBS documentary Designing Healthy Communities, understand the damage that auto-oriented environments inflict on us and understand the benefits of moving away from automobile dependence. Public transit is the necessity; relying on cars to travel everywhere is the luxury! It is an unfortunate reality that funding constraints have forced UTA to cannibalize its bus system in order provide rail service. However, a transit system, which only serves captive riders and never evolves to serve the needs of choice riders, will accomplish little in terms of improving air quality, reducing carbon emissions, and all the other things that are necessary for people to develop more sustainable and healthier lifestyles. Rather than attacking UTA for having to make tough choices in the face of a constrained budget, it would be much more productive to demand that our political leaders provide more funding for transportation alternatives. I find it absurd to criticize UTA for spending a few billion dollars on infrastructure, while overlooking the much larger sums of money spent in recent years in support of auto-oriented infrastructure in order to keep up with the traffic demands of the sprawl resulting from shortsighted land use policies. Calling UTA a net air polluter in light of the relatively massive amounts of air pollution produced by the automobiles along the Wasatch Front is definitely the pot calling the kettle black! In the future, I suggest the author consult sources that are based on sound research rather than selecting a source that will support an anecdotal slant on the topic.
The view of the Gateway Fountain during the tour.
Something completely unexpected happened to me today. I went somewhere that I go often, but because of the context of new circumstances, I saw that place differently. The new perspective was subtle, but the implications of what I learned from it were profound.
I am volunteering at CNU 21 and had the privilege of helping guide a tour titled “Gateway: Retail Transformation Workshop.” The Gateway is a mixed-use destination that was opened around the time of the 2002 Olympics. When City Creek Center opened in 2012, many questioned whether downtown Salt Lake City could support that much retail. However, both The Gateway and City Creek Center are not malls in the sense of what we typically see in suburbia.
In addition to retail and dining (and apartments, condos, and offices), The Gateway is home to Megaplex 12 Theatres, the Clark Planetarium, and the Discovery Gateway children’s museum. However, the most precious component of The Gateway is by far the Olympic Legacy Plaza and Fountain. I volunteered during the 2002 Olympics, so my name is inscribed on the wall among those of all the other volunteers. Each time I visit The Gateway, I have a habit of checking the wall to make sure my name is still there. Even though I have a deep connection to that wall, I feel even more deeply connected to the fountain.
As the tour group reached the fountain, the thought occurred to me: What if the fountain had never been built? I immediately became overwhelmed by emotion and was fighting back tears at the thought. This is a place that I’ve visited hundreds of times, yet I had never felt importance of this feature in my life and in the life of Salt Lake City. What if the fountain had never been built? It breaks my heart to think of the countless number of kids (of all ages) whose lives would never have been touched by having played in the fountain. Removing the fountain would be like ripping out my heart. Countless people have come to The Gateway to shop, but their memories of the stores quickly fade. But everyone remembers the fountain!
I’m a 36 year old man and am astounded by how profoundly this has affected me. In my mind, this underscores the positive influence that our built environment can have on our lives, when it is built correctly!
This session of Wasatch Choice for 2040 featured two great speakers borrowed from CNU 21. Here’s a couple quotes:
Jeff Speck – “The automobile is a prosthetic [for overcoming the handicap of sprawl]!”
Charles Marohn – “We are all guinea pigs is this experiment [of sprawl].”
Following their remarks, we split up into five discussion groups. I attended the one concerned with air quality. Although I could have dominated the discussion, I decided to sit back and listen to what my neighbors and colleagues had to say. There was a lot of discussion regarding ways to lessen the impact of cars. Considering the two great speeches we had just enjoyed concerning how sprawl and the auto-oriented environment is degrading our lives, I was disappointed.
Towards the end of the discussion, I raised my hand. The following is a synopsis of my comments:
First of all, I have to preface my comments by stating that I think in terms of long-range planning beyond 2040, and I don’t really concern myself with short-term solutions to our air quality problem. Much of what I’ve been hearing from this group is how to retrofit cars. It sounds like a discussion on improving vinyl records. Which are better? 78s or 33s? We live in the age of the iPod, and we’re actually starting the post-iPod era! From my perspective, the car just can’t play a dominant role in our future!
This great video by StreetFilms gives some highlights of the debut of CitiBike in New York City.
StreetsBlog noted the contrast between differing media views on the debut of the bike share. I prefer the point of view of the New Yorker!
StreetsBlog also reported on interesting research showing that public support is lowest (opposite: NIMBYism is highest) at the implementation of a new project. This suggests that public support for New York City’s bike share should make a steady climb as people realize how much better it is than driving.
Meanwhile back in Salt Lake City, where bike share was inaugurated six weeks ago, I continue to use GreenBike almost daily. Since the start of the program, I have made 88 trips for a total of 127 miles and am currently number 3 on the leaderboard for both trips and mileage!
Until one of my roommates suggested watching it a couple weeks ago, I had never seen Steven Spielberg’s classic Poltergeist. I was five years old, when the film was released back in 1982. It would have been pretty intense for a five-year-old, but by today’s standards, the “horror” film is a bit cheesy.
The interesting thing about the movie was noticing that it was set in a sprawling suburb in southern California. I won’t give away the plot for those who haven’t enjoyed the film yet, but I couldn’t help but wonder, if the horrors inherent in suburban life inspired the plot of this classic horror film!
Traffic Signal at Redwood Road and North Star Drive
Construction began a couple months ago at the intersection of Redwood Road and North Star Drive (300 North), and the traffic signal went live Friday, May 17, 2013. It took neighbors years of nagging to coax UDOT into performing a traffic study to determine the intersection’s eligibility for a traffic signal. The signal breaks up a 4-block unsignalized section of Redwood Road into two 2-block unsignalized sections. Here’s the location on Google Maps.