A skill most of us mastered when we were 6 years old — riding a bike — is driving the growth of bicycle commuting as a transportation choice in the Salt Lake Valley. As people catch on to the benefits — exercise, cost-savings, better air quality — they’re switching over from four wheels to two.
According to the U.S. Census, about 0.6 percent of workers nationally bike to their jobs; Salt Lake City currently has about 2.5 percent who do so (in Provo, it’s 3.1 percent).
Here at the county, we’ve included cycling as part of the transportation future for our fast-growing metropolitan area. It reduces pollution, eases road congestion, saves money on gas and also contributes to a healthier, more active community. Most importantly, we want to make cycling an even safer way to commute. Between 2003 and 2013, the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) reported more than 2,300 bicycle crashes on public roads in the county — 15 were fatal. Lowering those numbers is a top priority.
The county’s bikeway transportation initiative is an ambitious plan to begin to turn the existing patchwork of bike routes and trails into a safer, more connected bicycle commuter network. Safer bikeways will benefit both cyclists and vehicles.
This year, we’ve established a new regional bikeway commuter grant program. So far, the county has awarded more than $800,000 in grants to cities such as Sandy, South Salt Lake, and West Jordan to expedite bike projects. One example is along 2700 South between 500 East and 300 West, where cyclists have no choice but to ride in the road with vehicles. Our grant will help South Salt Lake connect an existing bike lane and extend it over a mile to 300 West. This project will then link to existing routes on 300 East and Main Street as well.
Another example of the county’s groundbreaking active transportation work is happening in Emigration Canyon. This busy commuting corridor for canyon residents into the city is also a popular cycling destination, as well as a school bus route. Led by the county’s Office of Township Services, an Emigration Canyon working group — made up of representatives from different users — is sitting down together, looking for options to make the road safer for vehicles, children and cyclists alike. The group will make its recommendations this fall on what can be done to help resolve conflicts and improve safety for everyone on the road.
Salt Lake County will also invest $300,000 in an active transportation master plan to ensure coordination across individual cities and townships in unincorporated Salt Lake County. The effort will be supported by a voluntary advisory committee whose members will be drawn from all parts of Salt Lake County and will include folks from the cycling, public safety, transportation, business and education communities.
We’ve hired George Deneris, a specialist transportation engineer experienced in working with local communities, UDOT, UTA and other agencies. He’ll serve as our "point man" and will work with cities and towns and other groups throughout the county to identify and bridge gaps in the county-wide bike route network. He is also managing the newly launched Bike Ambassadors program. This volunteer corps of informed bicycle commuters is a resource to help educate, encourage and promote safe cycling and to assist with tips on routes and transit options for easier commutes.
We’re blessed to live in a valley where we can get outdoors and avoid traffic jams and parking hassles. By making Salt Lake County a safe, cycling-friendly bike place, air quality will improve, traffic congestion will ease and people will get more exercise. Taking action today will lead to the transportation future we choose tomorrow.
Ben McAdams is mayor of Salt Lake County. Steve DeBry and Sam Granato are county councilmen.
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