I was in downtown Salt Lake City yesterday to attend the Outdoor Retailer winter trade show. A special shout out to John and Bevin Campbell of Alpine Luddites in Ouray Colorado for making this happen. Thank you both so much. For those of you who don’t know, this is one of the biggest outdoor industry trade shows in the world. Everybody is here. If you love the outdoors as I do, this is like being turned loose in the world’s largest candy store. I need a platinum card…
Anyway, Salt Lake City is still new to me. Maybe I’m biased because I choose to live here, but it seems to me that this city is more serious than most about changing the culture and putting cyclists and pedestrians on even footing with motorists.
That’s what really needs to happen. We need to change the culture that says people in automobiles have priority over all other road users. When that changes, everything else just falls into place.
Every time I visit here I see something that excites me and makes me think that now it’s just a matter of time. What needs to happen is happening. Progress is slow, but slow progress is still progress. With this in mind, I wanted to share some of my observations with you so that you can determine whether this sort of thing might be beneficial where you live. If so, share this with your elected officials. Reach out if I can help.
Salt Lake’s Dutch Junction
The intersection of South 200 W and West 300 S is home to one of America’s first Dutch Junctions, a protected bicycle intersection. I find that when I’m downtown I am drawn to this corner like a moth to light. What was once a wide, car only wasteland (think suburban intersection with multiple turn lanes and tiny sidewalks) is now great urban space with an oyster bar, loft apartments, PF Chang’s and Buca di Beppo. There are protected bike lanes on both streets. Traffic moves slowly.
The more I observe interactions here, the more convinced I become that this is something really significant. Casual cyclists feel comfortable here. That’s the real key. That’s what makes this work. Even though it was cold and snowing yesterday, street traffic was present. If this works here, it will work where you live, too.
Mid Block Crosswalks with Orange Flags
Salt Lake City has some of the widest, longest blocks I’ve ever seen in a major city. This is great for cyclists, but not so great for pedestrians. It seems like it takes forever to cover a block, and so the city has been installing mid-block crosswalks and “pedestrian alleys” to make it easier to navigate on foot.
This is no small thing. It’s actually easier for pedestrians to cross streets in the middle of the block where they don’t have to worry about motorists turning into them. The biggest concern is that motorists might not expect a crosswalk here, so the city has installed bins of orange flags that pedestrians can carry across the intersection to increase visibility. Simply pick up a flag before you cross and deposit it on the other side. Brilliant, this.
Interestingly enough, these mid-block crosswalks are starting to connect and as they do a separate grid of pedestrian-only streets is emerging. I’m not sure if this is by design or if it’s organic, but retailers and professionals are hanging out shingles along this new grid. It has a very European feel to it.
What It Means to Me
Taken separately, Dutch Junctions and orange flags are nice touches. Taken together, they show a commitment to a mindset that says bicyclists and pedestrians are every bit as entitled to the road as motorists. This, in turn, leads to renewed urban vitality and a completely different downtown, one where outdoor retailers, bicyclists, pedestrians and others feel perfectly at home. My lesson from downtown Salt Lake is this. When we change how we move, we change everything else…mostly for the better. That’s what it’s all about.