Utah’s Future? Active Transportation, Walkable Communities

The full report won’t be out of for another week, but Envision Utah offered the press a sneak peak of its online survey results of how Utahns see themselves living in years to come.  The number one takeaway…walkable neighborhoods and active transportation like bicycles will be the norm, not the exception.

Where Utah lives. JimIrwin at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Where Utah lives…the Wasatch Front.  JimIrwin at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Wasatch Mountains block development eastward and force the city to spread north and south at their base.

The Wasatch Mountains block development eastward and force urban development to spread north and south at their base.

As in many western states, population in Utah is clustered rather than spread evenly across the state.  Eight out of ten Utahns live along the Wasatch Front, a regional mega-city that stretches 100 miles along the western flank of the Wasatch Range from Ogden to Provo.  Development patterns here have favored sprawl, as they have just about everywhere in America.

Salt Lake City is one of a select number of US cities with a direct rail to airport connection.

Salt Lake City is one of a select number of US cities with a direct rail to airport connection.

Communities are integrating active transportation components into redesigned streets.

Communities are integrating active transportation components into redesigned streets.

But the population along the Wasatch Front is expected to double by the year 2050 and as people continue to pour into Utah, air quality deteriorates and traffic gets worse.  As it does, it is slowly dawning on people that the current model doesn’t work any longer…if it ever did.  They want change.

In fact, they overwhelmingly want change.  Here’s what Ogden’s Standard Examiner had to say:

Utahns seem to be moving away from the idea that a big house on a big lot in a comfortable subdivision with a daily commute to the office represents the American Dream. Nearly 80 percent of survey respondents said they want a future living scenario that includes a variety of housing options. …They want to live within walking distance of amenities, and they want short drives and transit options for getting around.

Only 10 percent of respondents said “plentiful” neighborhoods made up of single-family homes on big lots was important.

The suburban model took root after World War Two in an America with plentiful land and water, clean air, adequate highway capacity and one car households.  It worked fairly well for awhile but began showing cracks as far back as the early 1970s.  Now it is changing dramatically as suburbs everywhere rush to increase density.

When 80% of the people in a place want change, it is a not so much about central planning (as some critics contend) as it is a matter of survival.  Increasingly, people want walkable and bikeable communities and the places that build them out first and best are the places that will win in the new America.

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