A 9 Line for 400 South? Salt Lake City is building one and wants it to be a ‘beacon of connection.’

The 400 South viaduct is, in a word, ugly. But artwork can change that.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) A cyclist crosses the 400 South viaduct west of Pioneer Park on Saturday, March 2, 2024. The city is designing a new multipurpose path along 400 South, connecting Poplar Grove to downtown.

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Estela Sanchez is no stranger to the pitfalls of 400 South.

The longtime Poplar Grove resident routinely drives her daughter to school across the road’s railyard-spanning viaduct, a stretch that more often resembles a raceway than a main artery into the urban core. On date nights with her husband, she enjoys riding a scooter downtown along the same route, even if she has to brave narrow sidewalks.

Sanchez is exactly the kind of resident city transportation and art officials hope would use a new, well-lit, protected and, if the artists get their way, iconic multipurpose trail along the busy road and its viaduct.

“A few months ago, we were on our scooters, and it was a little dark and scary,” she said at a recent open house for the project in the west-side neighborhood. “We’d feel really safe and happy to use it more often.”

The path would add to a budding network of multiuse paths and protected bike lanes, creating another east-west byway akin to the 9 Line Trail. And unlike the trail on 900 South, this one couldn’t be interrupted by passing or stalled trains.

The planned path on 400 South would use the existing viaduct that carries the road over a much larger railyard. Pedalers wouldn’t even have to get off their bikes and walk them up stairs like they do at the new 300 North pedestrian bridge, making it easier for west-siders to access popular events like the summertime Pioneer Park farmers market.

Turning 400 South into an icon

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The 400 South viaduct on Saturday, March 2, 2024. The city is designing a new multipurpose path along the road, connecting Poplar Grove to downtown.

Mary Sizemore, the city transportation engineer managing the project, wants to mold a path that would be exciting and enjoyable to use, complete with art that draws people onto it.

“The viaduct, especially, is ugly. It’s actually really interesting; you can see the viaduct from a lot of points around the city,” she said. “You may not realize it because it’s such an eyesore, but if we were to have something really eye-catching there, it could really be this beacon of connection for everyone to see and just a reminder that we are working to unify our city.”

Sizemore and other officials said they’re trying to promote various ways of moving around Utah’s capital and encourage people to cross the east-west divide.

That, in part, means building routes that feel safer to those outside of their cars. The new path would run on the south side of 400 South from 900 West to 200 West. It’s a stretch that currently features six highway ramps and up to eight lanes of vehicle traffic.

Preliminary designs for the path show it would mostly be separated from the road by landscaping. There also would be a specific sidewalk for pedestrians and a separate byway for bikes and scooters, similar to the setup of the 9 Line.

Over the viaduct, where there’s less space, everyone would use the same path and be protected from traffic by a yet-to-be-designed barrier. Artists Laura Haddad and Tom Drugan might want to decorate that divider as a part of their full design along the route.

Renato Olmedo-Gonzalez, the city’s public art manager, said the planned path marks the first time the city has integrated artists into a transportation project on the front end instead of hiring them after construction is completed, like officials did with a new Fairpark traffic circle.

“One of the reasons why we chose this project for public art funding is because it is a horrifying, very scary road to cross, east-west, west-east,” he said. “People use it a lot. People mostly use it in cars. So, we want to make it a more safe space, a more inviting space, a better place, a prettier place, all of those things. Public art can add that to this bridge.”

Planning timeline

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City is designing a new multipurpose path along 400 South, connecting Poplar Grove to downtown, March 2, 2024.

It’s the job of Haddad and Drugan to figure out how art would enrich the travel experience. At the open house, they asked attendees to look at examples of similar architecture from around the world and place stickers on the ones they liked the most. That feedback will guide their initial designs.

“We’re interested in artwork that galvanizes people and gets people onto the viaduct,” Haddad said. “The last thing we’d like to see is the city builds this amazing new trail and people don’t want to come onto it. We’re hoping the art can make it feel more welcoming.”

A lot of the pair’s past works have been large, iconic installations that can be seen from afar and play with light and nature. The two would like to replicate that experience on the viaduct.

The hope is that those views from afar spark interest in the trail and then, once users get onto the path, they encounter additional, smaller art. One idea Drugan mentioned was creating art along the trail that offers different experiences depending on the time of day and year that someone is using it.

Haddad and Drugan plan to have concepts to show residents by the summer, with final designs done by year’s end. Construction would start in 2025.

Residents can share their thoughts on the project through a survey on the city’s website.

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