Ellen Birrell: To beat the summer heat, car-centric is not the answer

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Traffic on the causeway to Antelope Island State Park on Saturday, April 25, 2020.

The summer heat presses in. Asphalted roadways and parking lots contribute to higher temperatures. The greenery, which has been removed to make way for car-centric travel, is what filters pollution from the air, sequesters carbon into the ground and cools summer temperatures.

State and federal funding is surging for adding wider lanes and more lanes. Even more public comments than were submitted during the Legacy Highway EIS (Environmental Impact Study), 6,000 were just submitted for the ongoing Little Cottonwood Canyon EIS. Citizens want improvements but not a larger asphalt footprint. Swelling population, lack of effective regional transit planning and funding combined with ill-conceived regional land-use and a well-funded UDOT makes for a predicament.

The Salt Lake County Council and several city councils within Salt Lake Valley subscribe to the notion: “We can pave our way out of this.” Lip service is given to transit by all, but when it comes to explaining why parking lots are funded and transit is not, the county blames the cities, the cities blame the county.

In examining “The Foothills” section of SLCO’s Wasatch Canyons General Plan, transit (with no concrete ideas or funding) is mentioned three times while parking is plugged eight times. When not finger-pointing at each other, all direct us to the Wasatch Front Regional Council’s 2050 Regional Transit Plan, which is vague regarding Salt Lake’s southeastern quadrant. This encourages urban sprawl.

New parking lots stand in opposition to the blossoming of transit and active transportation. Like expanded roadways, they are expensive and create induced demand. UDOTs emphasizes “reliability” for choosing wider, straighter, high-speed roadways. Their “improved LOS (Level of Service) through reliability” means that a driver can know exactly how long it will take to drive from one place to another place.

Neighborhoods located along Vine Street in Murray (SignTheVine.com), Wasatch Boulevard in Cottonwood Heights (SaveNotPave.org), Sego Lily in Sandy and Prospector in Park City (see KPCW 2019 report) are rebelling against what they see as degradation, not improvement. Widening house- and tree-lined streets where residents enjoy the relative quiet and safety of slow moving cars reduces greenery and pushes asphalt nearer to bedroom windows. All this in the name of shaving time for commuters.

For many Americans, their vehicle has become a prosthetic. Used every day, it is part of their modern, over-stressed/under-exercised, “cocooned” way of life, leading to illnesses of every description.

Asphalting of parking lots and roadways produces small particulate and ozone pollution both during construction and for following decades inducing demand of more vehicles moving at higher speeds, and then more parking lots for those vehicles when they aren’t moving fast point to point.

Transit and active transportation move people and can reduce the number of car trips each of us takes in a given day or week.

Are you familiar with transit and active transportation? Transit examples include bus, light rail, train. Active transportation is walking, bicycling and even walking or bicycling to arrive to your transit stop.

Health improves when businesses and cities reduce their asphalted footprint and citizens include transit and active transportation for errands, getting back and forth to work, school, recreation, church, etc. This goes for life throughout Salt Lake Valley, not just in congested Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons. Save Our Canyons has excellent regional mobility suggestions in their website.

High car trips per capita, sedentary and isolating in nature, contribute to obesity, asthma, illness. The air, noise and light pollution coming off cars — their engines, their tires — make exclusive vehicular mobility bad. Even if electric, more cars are not the best answer.

Now is our time, Utah. Let’s not only beat the summer heat but better our communities year round. Contact your city, county and state representatives letting them know what you want more of and what you want less of. It’s your tax dollars!

Gaining a new perspective after this craziest of years, let’s turn away from systems that lead to divisiveness, inequality, destructiveness and imbalance, and toward inclusiveness and stewardship.

Ellen Birrell, founder of SaveNotPave.org, Cottonwood Heights

Ellen Birrell, founder of SaveNotPave.org, a non-partisan community coalition, lives in a one-car/four-bicycle household in Cottonwood Heights.”