Jan and I were sitting at a TRAX station in downtown Salt Lake City waiting for our train to the airport yesterday afternoon when it suddenly occurred to me that we were in the middle of a living, breathing road diet. As we had a little time to kill before our train arrived, I decided to observe, shoot some pictures and video and learn.
A little background is in order. Salt Lake City has really wide streets. The city was laid out by Brigham Young who insisted that the streets be wide enough for a wagon team to turn around without resorting to profanity. These boulevards criss cross the city and are lined with plentiful free parking and support high speeds.
But they also give city leaders and planners a great deal of flexibility in terms of repurposing some of that real estate and that’s exactly what they’re doing. South Temple is a wonderful example. It has high pedestrian counts because Temple Square, the center of the Mormon Church and the state’s most popular tourist attraction, is located there. Directly across the street is City Creek, an urban mall with Macy’s and Nordstrom’s as anchors. There are lots of people out and about here. They arrive by car, bicycle, TRAX train, bus and on foot.
Two streets that have been placed on road diets in this immediate area are South Temple and Main Street East. Cars are required to share a single traffic lane each direction with bicycles here. Speed limits have been lowered to reasonable levels. The center of the street has been allocated to TRAX light rail. All this commotion forces motorists to slow down, just as they do in parking lots. It hasn’t created gridlock. In fact, it works remarkably well. Here’s the video I shot while waiting for the train. It was a Tuesday evening during rush hour.
There’s more. The city also replaced two traffic lanes on nearby 200 West with protected bike lanes. I wasn’t able to get a picture because we were on the train and past by the time I realized they were there. I did find additional information (including pictures) online. There’s a lot of this going on in SLC, and it indicates that the city is truly committed to road diets and shared streets.
Why shouldn’t they be? This all works remarkably well. Sure, there’s grumbling from the “all cars, all the time” crowd, but here’s the thing: These roads were never built for cars. They were built for wagon teams, and just as they changed to accommodate automobiles almost a century ago, they are changing once again to function in a manner consistent with the way more and more people are choosing to move about our urban spaces today.