Will you breathe easier and ditch your car? What Salt Lake City’s new transit master plan means to you

It’s a long-term blueprint for improving the city’s public transit system and, with it, quality of life.

Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune A UTA supervisor directs Trax riders to a bus to get them to the next stop during a Trax service outage in downtown Salt Lake City in January 2017. The city's new transit master plan calls for significantly improving and expanding bus service in the city in the coming decades.

Here is Salt Lake City’s vision for 2040: Three out of four residents live within two blocks of a transit stop. With cheaper and more frequent buses, the city is a place where people comfortably live without owning a car.

And with fewer cars, the air quality has improved. Lower-income residents more easily rely on public transit for work or school, and the effective transportation network has spurred economic development.

To get there, the Salt Lake City Council adopted a citywide transit master plan Tuesday, a vote that Council Chairman Stan Penfold called “a really big deal and a first-time opportunity for Salt Lake City.”

Here’s a look at the details:

What is the plan?

Essentially, it’s a wish list for how Salt Lake City wants transit options — buses, mostly — to evolve and expand through 2040.

What are the system’s current shortcomings?

There’s not much bus service outside regular commuting times: Of 44 city bus routes, only half run throughout the day, in the evenings or on weekends. Only 6 percent of residents currently use transit to get to work. Bus stop amenities, such as shelters, are rare. System information — maps, schedules and planning tools — is limited. And the fare can be a burden to large families, young people and people with low or fixed incomes.

Why does Salt Lake City want or need this?

Demographics and transportation preferences are changing, along with socioeconomic conditions. Millennials, for example, drive less, but walk, bike and take transit more than older groups. More people moving here could mean more cars, more traffic and more pollution. (A full bus can equal 40 fewer cars on the road, and bus transportation produces a third less emissions per passenger mile than a car with a single occupant.)

On average, city residents spend 20 percent of their household income on transportation — so making it possible for a household to give up a car, or have none at all, helps with housing affordability. And with the Salt Lake County obesity rate at 27 percent, the plan notes that transit users walk an average of 19 minutes daily to and from transit stops.

So what’s the plan’s goal?

The city wants to expand service to the point that people don’t need to check a schedule to know when a bus will come. The “Frequent Transit Network” would identify and add priority bus routes that operate all day, every day, with buses running every 15 minutes on weekdays and every half-hour nights and weekends.

Some of the priority routes to get transit-boosting capital investment would be the east-west corridors on North and South Temple, 200 South, 400 South, 900 South and 1300 South/California Avenue; and north-south corridors on Redwood Road, State Street, 500 East, and 900 East and Foothill. TRAX, regional corridors and the S-Line streetcar would also see improvements and expanded service.

The Salt Lake City Council adopted a transit master plan on Dec. 5, 2017 that serves as a blueprint for expanding network through 2040. This map shows priorities for capital investments along various routes to improve speed, reliability and amenities for passenger comfort. Routes targeted for major investment are in green, secondary routes in red.

What are some of the challenges?

Not surprisingly, money is the biggest one. The cost of new routes envisioned by the plan is estimated at $7.7 million and a source of funding has not been identified. Achieving the plan’s goals would require coordination and a strong partnership between the city and the Utah Transportation Authority; developing and finding local funding sources, both public and private, such as sponsorships; and creating public-private partnerships with employers and schools.

Was there any public input?

Lots. The project team met with more than 20 stakeholder groups — community councils, business groups, colleges and schools, and transit and environmental advocacy groups. In 2015, the team hosted 60 people at an open house and engaged hundreds of people at eight mobile outreach events. More than 500 people answered a City Hall questionnaire and 1,400 used an online “Design Your Own Transit System” tool on the project website, slcrides.org. The bottom line response: Make the transit network faster, bigger, easier and more frequent.

When will I see changes?

As soon as late 2018 or early 2019. Changes that wouldn’t cost money would include reconfiguring bus routes to fit with the plan’s goals. Part of the lag is because the UTA makes route changes three times a year — in April, August and December — and all proposed changes need to be in the works at least four months ahead of those time frames.

Where I can find out more?

An executive summary and the full 400-page master plan are available here.