John Stringham has lived in Sugar House for 60 years.
He remembers stopping by the old Snelgrove Ice Cream shop as a child, and he remembers biking to work downtown when he got older.
But now, the once-quaint neighborhood is home to big-box stores and towering luxury apartments — and the traffic that comes with them.
Stringham doesn’t bike to work anymore, he said, and his commute now avoids congested 2100 South altogether. It’s a problem the city is currently working to fix in the form of a new construction project, aimed at making a stretch of the busy street safer for all.
The redesign options
The 2100 South project originated from a $87 million road bond that city residents approved in 2018. Based on the scheduled use of those funds, the project’s construction will begin in spring 2024 and finish by fall 2025, said Jon Larsen, Salt Lake City’s director of transportation.
The city originally released two options on how to update the roadway between 700 East and 1300 East. Larsen said both concepts are similar in cost.
The first option would not change the roadway much — there would still be four travel lanes, with two headed east and two headed west. But the plan would add a raised median between the two traffic directions, update pedestrian crossings and widen a sidewalk so it could function as a multi-use path.
The second option would reduce the roadway to one travel lane in each direction, but proposed adding a bike lane and a turn-only lane. Both plans would eliminate on-street parking in the area and limit left turns off of 2100 South.
Internally, the city chose which general option it intends to move forward with last week, a decision that hasn’t been made public. But the final project design will ultimately be a hybrid of both options, Larsen said.
“There’s still a few months to iron out a lot of the details,” Larsen said.
New, hybrid designs of the 2100 South project are expected in mid-January, and the department’s focus now is meeting with small community groups to nail down details of the project area’s six blocks, which will be customized by need.
Residents can contact the 2100 South project team to provide feedback and stay updated on developments through its website over the next few months.
“Come sit down with us and look at the design and help us refine it,” Larsen said. “We want it to work as well as possible for the community on on all levels — recognizing that our city’s higher level goals are not anti-car, but we’re trying to bring more balance to the system by making our projects much more friendly to walking and biking and transit.”
The four-lane option
When talking with the community, Larsen said many have indicated their preference for the four-lane option because it won’t reduce car travel lanes on an already traffic-heavy road.
“The common theme is everyone likes the elements in the three-lane option the best, but most often lean towards the four-lane option because they’re afraid of the traffic impacts,” Larsen said. “That’s probably the most common theme that we’ve heard, is ‘Oh, I like the three-lane option, but that would be a disaster — so you should probably go with the four-lane option.’”
But this plan may get rid of a currently existing turn lane onto 800 East. Larsen said the lane’s removal has “definitely not been decided yet,” and is part of a few details that will be resolved in the next three months — since the city’s “40% design plan,” which will solidify the project’s basic infrastructure, must be completed in March.
“The downside of that is the business access; we’ve heard that really loud and clear from the most of the business communities — they do not want to lose turn access,” Larsen said. “But they also want good vehicle flow.”
Preston Jacobsen, the manager of Guthrie Bicycle’s Sugar House location, told The Salt Lake Tribune that during busy times, “we hear screeching tires regularly” as cars attempt to turn left from 2100 South onto 800 East to access Guthrie.
However, Jacobsen is “a little nervous” about limiting left-turn options from 2100 South. “Will people even find us? Will they want to deal with the hassle of trying to find a new way to our business? That’s concerning,” he said.
The prospect of adding those features, as well as perhaps widening the sidewalks, worries Paul Rock, the manager of Blick Art Materials, near the 1000 East intersection.
He is most unhappy about possibly doing away with street parking, though. Many of Blick’s customers are elderly, Rock said, and they can’t walk long distances, and don’t bike or take the bus. Plus, Blick’s customers often buy large canvases or easels that can be difficult to carry to the store’s parking lot about a block away.
The road does need repair, Rock said. But “as far as the looks of the street, I think it’s fine as it is now.”
The three-lane option
Each day, 2100 South sees about 30,000 cars, according to the project’s website, making any construction in the area complicated.
The transportation department has also never done a four- to three-lane conversion on a street with “anywhere near” the traffic that 2100 South sees, Larsen said — part of what makes this project the department’s most challenging out of all those funded by the 2018 bond.
“A counter argument for that is you can actually move more people if they’re walking and biking, and [through] transit,” Larsen said. “But then with just how high the traffic volumes are, the question is, can you convert that many people to walking and biking? And the answer is probably yes, over a 20-year period, but maybe not over a one-year period.”
Utah Transit Authority bus route 21 runs through this portion of 2100 South, which could create congestion if the city moves forward with the three-lane option — since the route would only have one lane to operate in each direction, and on one side of the roadway, buses would be cut off from the curb by the proposed bike lane.
That bus route connects the south Liberty Wells area to Sugar House, Highland High, and the University of Utah, with an average of about 1,500 riders per day.
“We’re probably not going to move forward with the two-way bike lane and instead do a shared-use path,” Larsen said. “There’ll be some sections where we’ll make it extra wide, and so it kind of eliminates that concern, but still a lot of details to work out on that.”
No matter what changes are decided for 2100 South, construction must begin in spring 2024 for the road to be completed by fall 2025.
But some business owners including Kaycee Nipper, general manager of Got Beauty at 900 East, worry any construction would “put all of us out for a long time,” even though they want an upgrade to the traffic-snarling roadway.
“The fundamental message is that 21st South doesn’t really work for anybody who is using it,” said Mark Morris, the founder of Work Hive, which has a location in Sugar House.
“So whether or not you’re in a car, or on a bike, or on foot, I’d say 21st South is a relic of a different era,” Morris continued, “where the assumption was everyone is in a car, all the time, always.”
The initial survey period for the project is now closed. But residents and business owners can still get involved by sharing comments or asking questions ahead of March, when the basic infrastructure plan must be finalized to begin working toward construction. More information can be found on the project’s website.