Jamie Fendler: Wasatch Boulevard should embrace bicycles

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Polaris gets in to the Fat Bike revolution with an electric assist version as people give them a try during the Mountain Demo Day at Solitude Resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon that precedes the opening of the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market trade show.

“It’s a hot, steep, unpleasant slog,” is what many road bikers are thinking peddling south on Wasatch Boulevard beyond the 7-Eleven store located across from mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon. Beginning the black asphalted ascent, made even more hot and hideous by cars zooming past your left shoulder, one might be thinking, “Isn’t there a better way?”

More and more cyclists are riding Wasatch Boulevard, and they are ready for improvement.

The Utah Department of Transportation is in the midst of redesigning the section of Wasatch Boulevard through Cottonwood Heights. Wasatch Boulevard runs north and south along the Wasatch Front foothills from as far north as Interstate 80 southward to 11800 South before it wraps westward to meet the Draper Highway in central Draper, providing expansive views of the mountains on its east and the dramatic, big skies framed by the Oquirrh Mountains to the west.

Both local residents and those within the Utah and Salt Lake valleys cycle this roadway, some for transportation, others for sheer recreation. Elevated above the Salt Lake Valley, cyclists and pedestrians enjoy sweeping views, but sections of Wasatch Boulevard are dangerous due to too many cars driving too fast.

Many parents won’t allow their children to ride on Wasatch Boulevard; some won’t even let them attempt to cross it. Lighted intersections and crosswalks are few and far between.

Improved bicycle lanes, design features such as curves in the road, narrow lanes and landscaped medians signal vehicular drivers to slow down. Slower car speeds would be a good step in the right direction. Currently, a shoulder with paint is not the best bike lane for dangerously fast sections of road.

I live on the east side of Wasatch Boulevard in Cottonwood Heights. I’d like to ride with my young children to a nearby coffeehouse located on Fort Union Boulevard on the weekends for a fun family experience. Ah, but there is no safe cycling route to take.

I’d like my children to get the benefit of exercise and develop their independent skills by riding their bikes to school. Alas, it is too unsafe for them to cross Wasatch Boulevard in the state of design it holds currently. Can we really let our young children negotiate this road to ride to school?

In addition, crossing Wasatch Boulevard in my car to go south is nearly impossible, especially during heavy commuting times.

Sigh. What would it be like to live in a community where active transportation is embraced?

It would mean slower driving speeds and improvements including a path for pedestrians and slow bicycle riders, as well as a protected lane for the faster cyclists including the trending e-biker phenomena.

Instead of UDOT doing business as usual and designing roadways with “cars as king,” how about encouraging more cyclists of all stripes, from the slower and more timid to the fast-moving cyclists and the e-bikes with their boosted speeds of 20 to 30 mph?

Without getting into the benefits of transit, especially roadways that feature an express bus lane, we need UDOT to give mobility for active transportation users their attention. If UDOT keeps up its focus of, “One more lane, we need to widen with one more lane,” it induces demand for more vehicular traffic that pollutes our air and poses danger to the active transportation user.

We do not need highways through our neighborhoods. Please get involved and help the cause.

Jamie Fendler

Jamie Fendler is a recreational cyclist raising her children to be athletic and civic-minded. She currently works in support of SaveNotPave.org, a nonpartisan, community coalition advocating for improvement, not expansion, of Utah roadways.