What images are conjured up by the words “Utah Department of Transportation”?
Cars and highways, construction and orange cones?
Two things likely not associated with UDOT are bicyclists and pedestrians. But the agency is about to launch a policy to change that.
“Needs of bicyclists, pedestrians and other active transportation users will be routinely considered as an important aspect in the funding, planning, design, construction, operation and maintenance of UDOT transportation facilities,” the draft policy says.
UDOT’s new executive director, Carlos Braceras, a lifelong cyclist who rides about 3,000 miles a year, says the department is implementing that concept already with all new projects. He’s pushing it because he knows firsthand that cyclists and walkers have been ignored too often.
“I’ve fallen into this myself. I’m walking down the street and all the sudden I’m in a construction project,” he says, unable to figure out how to get through it on foot. Braceras has done the same on a bicycle and been forced to find long detours — or face danger riding on narrowed roads.
“We do a good job in helping cars,” he says. “We can do a better job with our cyclists and pedestrians during construction, so let’s consider it.”
Braceras says the biggest difference the new policy can make is at the project planning stage.
“We do a great job in fitting in active transportation in our larger projects,” he says, citing trails along Legacy Parkway and the new Mountain View Corridor. “But over 90 percent of our projects are basically preservation and rehabilitation. We kind of approach those with our heads down. ... We know we need to pull the asphalt up, we need to put it back down and we need to paint the lines.”
That approach may miss the opportunity to partner with communities to build trails, sidewalks or other safety projects that, for little money, could make a big difference.
So Braceras says the new policy essentially tells UDOT to “open our eyes a little wider than before on projects that we typically have been more ‘plug and chug.’ ”
As he has said before, “If a family is not comfortable in walking that last quarter-mile to get to a train, or walking to school because they are worried about safety, they are not going to make that trip. So they are going to start the car — those cold starts are not good for air quality — and they are going to drive a half mile to take the kids to school instead of walking,” adding to pollution and congestion.
Braceras said regional transportation officials have developed a plan to identify key bicycle routes, but it was not incorporated directly into combined plans for highways and mass transit.
“My goal in the long run,” he said, “is we incorporate all of these plans, which are kind of in silos, and bring them together so that we have one transportation plan that is inclusive of all the modes.”
While UDOT already is incorporating goals of the draft two-page policy, it is still tweaking the wording and running it by a variety of leaders before finalizing it. Braceras says that’s because UDOT doesn’t want wording to raise unrealistic expectations — or to leave people thinkingincorrectly that every street will have a bike path or sidewalk.
“That’s maybe a utopia version if we were to start from scratch and Brigham Young were just here in the valley,” he says. “[Young] had a pretty good vision of how wide to make the streets to turn around a team of oxen. But he probably didn’t think of how many different ways we are using our streets today.
“As much as I wish we could make every road have enough traffic lanes, bus pull-offs, pedestrian sidewalks, bike paths and parking for businesses, sometimes there isn’t all the room you need to do those things,” he adds. “Not every road can be everything to everybody.”