Alex Cragun first saw the flyer on his Neighborhood app.
Someone received it in the mail and shared it to the social networking app, which connects people in their immediate communities.
The flyer showed UTA’s new bus route plans for the Avenues in Salt Lake City, which take effect Aug. 7.
“New bus route will affect you!” the unofficial flyer reported. It listed concerns one might expect, such as busier streets and increased noise. And a couple one might not, including that the new routes would decrease housing values and that buses will bring “homeless inhabitants” to the area.
Cragun, who describes his interests as “music, public policy, politics and transit” on the social media network, was upset. And he shared the flyer on Twitter.
Respondents expressed frustration with people in the Avenues who have NIMBY (“not in my backyard”) attitudes.
“My neighbors are honestly so embarrassing. Something truly terrible appears to happen at 11th Ave’s altitude,” one wrote.
Cragun said there are “a lot of inaccurate and incorrect assertions” in the flyer, and that people have treated public transportation as second tier for decades.
“Folks who use public transit, whether that’s out of necessity or out of a conscientious decision to do so, are often seen as less-than or adolescent,” he said.
But Laurie Holland, an Avenues resident who helped create the flyer, said she is not anti-bus at all — in fact, she rode the bus for years.
She said her biggest concern is that her neighborhood wasn’t sufficiently notified of the changes.
The flyers’ other points — such as housing values or homeless activity — were added by others and don’t represent her own views, Holland said.
“I felt that, as someone who advocates for democracy, open government [and] transparency, if you’re going to make a major change … that the people should be informed and allowed to provide input and tell the policymakers how this would impact them,” she said.
The public comment period
The Utah Transit Authority held a 30-day open comment period from March 2 through April 1.
UTA’s Manager of Service Planning Eric Callison said UTA implements service and employee contract changes three times a year, typically in April, August and December, but it tries to make major changes in August.
“We’re not trying to damage your community in any way,” Callison said. “We’re trying to meet the needs of the people who rely on our transit services in this area.”
During the recent public comment period, UTA received both positive and negative input about the new Avenues routes, he said.
A number of those comments were to the effect of “any street but mine,” he said.
Those comments can be difficult, Callison said, because no matter what UTA does, residents of one street or another are unhappy.
“We have certainly … followed up with individuals who have made these types of complaints,” he said. “Part of it is an education piece to let people know [that] transit is not going to be a constant presence.”
This isn’t the first time UTA has received pushback of this nature when making public transportation changes in a neighborhood. But he hopes people will remember the Avenues sees several hundred bus boardings a day, and the new services will benefit the neighborhood.
Salt Lake City Council member Chris Wharton, who represents District 3, which includes the Avenues, has also been fielding comments about the upcoming changes — almost 100 via email, he said, and nearly all of them opposing the new bus routes.
He said he can understand why his constituents have concerns (though he emphasized that he has no authority to stop UTA).
“Nobody wants to find out after the fact that something’s coming … that’s going to be right in your front yard or in the street in front of your house, and feel like the decision’s already been made,” Wharton said. “I think that is the piece that I am most concerned about on behalf of my residents.”
UTA officials have been invited to the Greater Avenues Community Council meeting on June 1 at 6:30 p.m. at the Corinne and Jack Sweet Library, where they will talk with residents about the upcoming changes. But the formal comment period is closed.
Holland, however, says her neighborhood was not given adequate notice of the comment period: “Evidently, the only way you heard about the public comment period was a bulletin that you got if you are a bus rider.”
She said she and other community members have created a “compromise proposal” they will present to UTA at the meeting, asking for fewer buses for shorter periods of the day.
She is not optimistic that the community meeting will change the routes.
“My goal right now is to publicize an issue in which inadequate public comment was provided,” Holland said. “I’m offended that [the] government makes decisions without allowing people the opportunity to weigh in.”
The new plans will replace Route 6 (which includes South Temple, N Street and 6th Ave.) with Route 209: service to downtown with north/south connections.
UTA also is introducing Route 1, which will connect downtown Salt Lake City and the University of Utah via South Temple Street.
Callison said UTA is in the process of determining the ideal places for bus stops, particularly for elderly people and those with disabilities.
Major destinations along the new Avenues routes include LDS Hospital and the Smith’s on the corner of 6th Ave. and E Street.
Buses will run every 15 minutes, compared to the current routes which run anywhere from every 15 minutes to every 30 to 60 minutes.
Callison said the 15 minutes between buses feel like much longer periods of time than they sound.
He also said that UTA’s buses use clean diesel fuels or are electric vehicles.
“This image people may have of a bus pulling away with a black cloud of smoke behind it really hasn’t been true since about the 1980s,” Callison said.
Avenues resident Jacqueline Anderson said her biggest concern about the new bus routes pertains to safety. She said people walking to the nearby Smith’s have to cross E Street, and cars going down E sometimes reach 50 miles per hour.
When drivers reach the hill’s blind spot, they sometimes don’t see pedestrians in time, she said. If UTA adds buses to that mix, “I think people will die,” Anderson said.
E Street is wider than other north/south streets in the Avenues, allowing buses to safely pass in opposite directions, according to UTA, and Callison said UTA’s bus operators are trained to watch for pedestrians.