Category Archives: Transportation

Nothing Says Sprawl Like Eagle Mountain

The following is the essay I wrote on affordable housing for my Green Communities class:

I have a cousin who’s married with five kids. Last year her husband’s employer relocated him from Idaho Falls, Idaho, to Salt Lake City, which obviously required that the other six family members follow along. But finding housing for a family of seven living on a limited income turned out to be difficult. Well, they “drove ‘til they qualified” and ended up in Eagle Mountain!

I honestly don’t know why anyone would want to live in Eagle Mountain. The nearest convenience store is three miles away, and the nearest grocery store six miles away. The nearest bus stop is over a mile away, and service is limited to three inbound trips in the morning and three outbound trips in the evening. The nearest FrontRunner station is twelve miles away. Life in Eagle Mountain is neigh impossible without a car. In Utah nothing says sprawl like Eagle Mountain.

In learning about the factors guiding their housing decision, I discovered that they would have preferred to find a place to live somewhere closer to … well … anything. They needed to live somewhere with at least four bedrooms—preferably five bedrooms. Due to false notions about crime, they were unwilling to even consider living in Salt Lake City or nearby in West Valley City, Taylorsville, Midvale, or even Murray. They focused their search in places like Sandy, Herriman, and Lehi, but just couldn’t find anything in their price range.

A sprawling suburb like Eagle Mountain, so far from everything, certainly does not meet human needs. It does not fulfill the desperate need for compact, sustainable communities. I am puzzled as to why we are unable to provide housing and communities that actually meet the needs of a family of seven. Honestly, it makes me feel sad and frustrated that my cousin and her family have to live in Eagle Mountain. I wish they could have the experience of living in my neighborhood and of being so close to downtown. My cousin’s oldest is fourteen, and it scares me to imagine being a teenager in Eagle Mountain and to think of the deep boredom and depression that must result from having no entertainment opportunities nearby and having to rely on an adult to drive you to everything worthwhile.

My townhome is across the street from a convenience store and three blocks from a grocery store. It’s a fifteen minute walk to TRAX and then a ten minute ride on TRAX to arrive downtown. I usually take time almost every day to enjoy downtown and soak in the atmosphere and culture. I wish my cousin and her family could have the same experience. I wonder if they even have any comprehension of what they’re missing out on!

In reviewing the Affordable Housing Design Advisor, I see many great examples of communities that are being built the right way. The communities fulfill the necessity of compactness and walkability and are even attractive and aesthetically pleasing. They support transit and provide opportunities for people to meet their neighbors. When compared with sprawl, they are a giant leap forward toward sustainability. However, I do see a general lack of housing for larger families. Given Utah’s propensity for producing large families, I feel that there is a need for apartments, condos, and townhomes with four, five, maybe six bedrooms. I’m also concerned about keeping affordable, sustainable, walkable housing affordable given the huge latent demand. The popularity of Daybreak has already shown the demand for communities that try to build according to the principles of New Urbanism.

I worry whether society can break free of the habits of consumerism and resistance to change that we’re stuck in. While watching Taken for a Ride, I was struck by the collective stupidity of it all. Shortly after embarking on the sprawl experiment, many people realized that we were literally headed down the wrong road, but yet we’ve persisted in the same policies and practices for a half century.

I had the opportunity to work for the Utah Legislature during the 2012 General Session, which gave me an inside view of the political ecology of Utah. And it left me somewhat disturbed. In many respects, the Utah Legislature is stuck in the 1950s in their way of thinking about issues that face our state. Applying the immortal words of Winston Churchill to Utah, I can say that the Utah Legislature “can always be counted on to do the right thing … after they have exhausted all other possibilities.” When I think of the desperate need for state leadership in issues such as air quality and sustainability, I worry how long it will take the legislature to exhaust those other possibilities and wake up to the reality that it’s not the 1950s.

I realize that this assignment was intended to focus more on exploring the possibilities of good design in affordable housing. Unfortunately, I often get hung up on seeing the legislative hurdles that keep us from implementing the changes that are so obvious to those of us, who have a clear vision of what could be possible.

Limits of Transit

Tonight I actually had to drive, because I had to pick up one of my roommates from a late meeting.  His car broke down, so he’s been riding UTA to get around, but his meeting tonight ended too late for him to ride UTA home.

One complaint that we share is the lack of late service by UTA.  I realize that the problem isn’t UTA’s, but rather the limited funding provided to UTA.  However, I do have issues with how UTA chooses to explain service cuts to the public.  UTA’s default response for reducing service is to cite a lack of ridership.  In the past, I have been a frequent rider of late bus service, which was eventually cut due to a lack of ridership.  But I can testify that ridership was not lacking.

I feel that it would be benefical to UTA’s riders and potential riders, if UTA would tell the full story behind service cuts.  UTA’s simplistic, canned explanation is harmful, as it insults the intelligence of its riders.  The full story is that UTA’s budget is limited, and it must make tough decisions and put its resources where the largest number of riders can be benefitted.  Additionally, UTA should encourage riders who are dissatisfied with service cuts to ask elected officials to provide more funding to UTA.

Air Quality and the Utah Legislature

I thought for today that I’d post a letter to the editor that the Salt Lake Tribune printed back in March:

I have been a Salt Lake City resident for ten years and am currently a grad student at the University of Utah working on a Master of City and Metropolitan Planning with a focus on sustainable transportation and development. Improving air quality is a hot topic at the U, and the consensus among professors and students is that improvements are possible. However, public policy can stand in the way of implementing change. Therefore, I honestly feel that the biggest threat to improving air quality in Utah is the Utah legislature (generally speaking). Just when I think they couldn’t be more backward-thinking, they go and pass some crazy piece of legislation that makes me embarrassed to live in Utah. For example, HB148 “Transfer of Public Lands Act” from the 2012 General Session, which has the potential to waste millions of taxpayer dollars litigating for something that the legislature’s own attorneys have warned is unconstitutional. As air quality worsens and we face more federal sanctions, it wouldn’t surprise me to hear some legislators suggesting that we sue the federal government to relax air quality standards! The “Bagley cartoon: Legislation Culmination” illustrates my concerns.

The Rain Falls on Both Sides of the Border

This morning in my Green Communities class, we discussed how nature does not respect the borders that humankind tries to impose upon it. The case study was an ecosystem that straddles the border between Israel and Jordan and the resulting difficulty of trying to formulate a plan, when there are multiple jurisdictions with differing goals. But the falling rain drops have no clue what side of the border they’re destined for, and the birds have no concept of what the fence represents.

This reminded me of a scripture from the New Testament:

…for he [Heavenly Father, God, Yahweh, Allah, Mother nature, etc.] maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:45)

This wisdom is from the Sermon on the Mount almost two thousand years ago. The verses that precede it just happen to provide great insights on how to diffuse differing points of view:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. (Matthew 5:43-44)

Sprawl Madness in Utah

Back in March, I stumbled upon a Streetsblog article showing two homes in Florida both of which have adjoining backyards, yet they are separated by 7 miles of road!

I’ve been trying to find a similar “sprawl madness” example here in Utah and stumbled upon a pretty good one in April. Two homes–one in Sandy and one in Draper–which have adjoining backyards, yet are separated by 5.1 miles of road!

View Larger Map

If anyone knows of other examples here in Utah, please let me know.

City Weekly’s Attack on UTA

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.

Thoughts from Wasatch Choice for 2040 (May 29, 2013)

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!

Bike Share Debuts in New York City

This great video by StreetFilms gives some highlights of the debut of CitiBike in New York City.

Image via StreetsBlog.

Image via StreetsBlog.

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!

Image via StreetsBlog.

Image via StreetsBlog.

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!

UDOT Adds New Traffic Signal at Redwood Road

Traffic Signal at Redwood Road and North Star Drive

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.