Bike racks in a FrontRunner train
Is it possible for the Wasatch Front to double its population in the next three or so decades without doubling the capacity of roads and highways?
Well, we’d better figure out how to do it, because transportation experts say we won’t be able to find the space or the funding to continue to add enough new freeway lanes and local roads to accommodate all those new people and vehicles – not to mention the increased air quality problems.
Even Carlos Braceras, Utah’s No. 1 highway guy (executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation), says we can’t expand highway capacity quickly enough to handle all the growth. Utah’s population is increasing by about 80,000 people a year. That’s like dropping a city the size of Ogden into the state each year. That’s a lot of roads and infrastructure.
Obviously, public transit must play a bigger role in Utah’s transportation system to avoid gridlock and dirtier air. And new technologies like intelligent highways, connected cars and autonomous vehicles will allow us to put more cars on existing highways.
But one low-tech tool (although some are very high-tech) that transportation planners say could help relieve congestion and improve air quality is the lowly bicycle. And they want Utahns to think of bikes not just as neighborhood transport but, in concert with public transit, as a way to get most anywhere on the Wasatch Front.
And, after all, what’s not to like? A bike means more exercise, less pollution, less cost (avoid having to buy a second car?) and less congestion. If a bike, along with a transit pass, can conveniently be used to get 20 miles across the valley, that’s some excellent, clean, sustainable mobility progress.
In many European cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen (the top two biking cities in the world), the streets are full of bikes. Business people bike to work. Children bike to school. Families bike to the park. Bikes are equipped with baskets for groceries. Babies are in a safe bike seat or a child trailer. Bikes are the preferred method of travel, even in cold weather.
Cycling is becoming increasingly popular in Utah. In fact, Utah is ranked the 5thbest state for biking by the League of American Bicyclists. To attract even more riders, state and local leaders, along with Utah Transit Authority (UTA) and Utah Department of Transportation officials, are working hard to make biking safer and more practical than ever. Salt Lake City’s popular bike share program, GREENBike, is a good example. You can easily get anywhere downtown using inexpensive GREENBike rentals.
OnApril 5, Bike Utah, a cycling advocacy group, is hosting the Utah Bike Summit. Speakers from Copenhagen and Washington, D.C., will participate, as well as Salt Lake Mayor Biskupski and UDOT Deputy Director Shane Marshall. For more information, click on this link: http://bikeutah.org/
Jennifer McGrath, active transportation planner for UTA, and Scott Hess, active transportation planner for Wasatch Front Regional Council (, note that cities and counties across the Wasatch Front are developing plans to create more bike lanes and trails to make biking safer and more appealing. Leaders are also developing regional master plans, coordinating all the smaller plans and filling in the gaps.
Biking in a local neighborhood is beneficial for many reasons. But commuting significant distances with a bike is even better. It is bicycle commuting that will relieve traffic (WFRC) on major highways and improve air quality.
Utah Transit Authority (UTA) is encouraging long-distance bike commuting by making buses and trains bike friendly. Bike capacity on buses has been bumped up, and a new bike rack being tested on a FrontRunner train can hold 15 bikes, up from 9.
Biking helps solve public transit’s “first/last mile” challenge. A commuter can bike a few blocks or a few miles to a transit stop, ride a train or bus to get close to a final destination, and then bike to that destination. Combining biking with public transit benefits both modes of transportation.
UTA is working closely with WFRC and cities and counties to expand the GREENBike program throughout the transit district. UDOT is also supportive as a station sponsor. With inexpensive rental bikes at transit stops, commuters can conveniently use a bike to get to final destinations, either by transporting their own bikes, or using the GREENBike program. “There is a lot of excitement about bike share programs in the region and a desire by other cities to build on the success of the Salt Lake program with systems in their own cities,” McGrath said. She noted that in 2014 more than 600 cities world-wide had bike share systems.
Using bikes and public transit can save a family money. An American Automobile Association study shows total cost of owning and operating an average sedan, including maintenance, fuel, tires, insurance, depreciation, etc. is 60.8 cents per mile, or $9,122 per year, based on 15,000 miles of annual driving. Costs associated with a truck, SUV or minivan are substantially higher. A family that gets aggressive in using public transit could avoid having to purchase a second car -- a substantial savings.
Certainly, driving a car will usually get someone to their destination faster than biking and using public transit (unless you encounter a traffic jam). If you drive 45 minutes, transit might take an hour. But the time element is only one consideration. If you consider productivity, and what you can accomplish during the commute, plus the exercise of biking, transit plus biking wins out big time. On a train or bus you can read, write, respond to e-mail, make phone calls, or even sleep (rest up for the bike ride!). And you’re helping solve the Wasatch Front’s air quality problems.
Obviously, not everyone can be a cyclist. But even commuters who don’t cycle or use public transit should support these travel options because they reduce congestion for everyone else and help improve air quality. If even a relatively small percentage of citizens ride bikes and use public transit, the impact on congestion and air quality can be considerable.
Biking weather is here. And the day is soon coming when a bicycle, plus public transit, will get you to most places in the major metro areas.
Here are some biking resources provided by WFRC’s Scott Hess:
- Bike Utah is the state's advocacy organization focused on integrating cycling in the everyday culture of Utah.
- WFRC Regional Transportation Plan Map shows existing and planned bicycle facilities across the Wasatch Front.
- The unified plan interactive map shows the bike plans for all MPO regions across the State.
- In 2015 Utah was ranked the 5th most bicycle-friendly state in the country by the National League of American Cyclists.
- UDOT's Travelwise program strategies also include active transportation.
- GREENbike is Utah's first bike share program located in Salt Lake City.
-The UDOT traffic app includes a tab that shows state routes, amount of traffic, and shoulder width to help cyclists make riding choices.