Andrew Gruber: Utah should increase investment in the post-pandemic ‘bike boom’

Utah should make bicycling for transportation and health easier and safer.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People join Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski on Thursday, May 16, 2019, as part of the annual Mayor's Bike to Work Day. This year's ride began at the Northwest Recreation Center and ran primarily along the Jordan River Trail in an effort to show off the investments the city and others have made to the trail including the new 120-foot arch bridge that connects the north and south sides of the trail between 200 South and North Temple.

As we look back on a difficult year, many things stand out. Some positive, certainly many negative, and also some things that emerge as new opportunities, if we have the will to act.

Despite the pandemic, Utah’s economy has been strong, generating significant available resources to invest in Utah’s long-term health and economic outcomes. Our elected officials are engaged in the legislative session, making important decisions on behalf of our state, including prioritizing investments supported with public funds. There are many worthy initiatives to consider. Among them is a chance to create a healthier, more connected Utah through funding for roads, transit, trails, and broadband.

We can make investments now that will pay dividends of good health, a stronger economy, better mobility, and more connected communities well into the future. That’s why almost 400 public, private and community stakeholders across Utah have signed a letter supporting additional investment in constructing regionally important biking and walking projects throughout the state.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Utah has experienced a “bike boom,” as evidenced by unprecedented bicycle sales and bike trips increasing by over 50%. As many people have been teleworking and leaving their cars at home, they’ve also discovered the joys and possibilities of biking, walking, and getting out in their communities and into nature.

This growth in “active transportation” has actually been building for many years. Utah is already known for its world-class recreational biking, and is now poised to make the leap to be a world-class place for biking as a means of transportation and commuting as well.

Biking and walking are universally recognized for their benefits to individual and community health.

  • They improve air quality and decrease traffic congestion.

  • They increase physical activity and decrease healthcare costs.

  • They improve transportation choices, providing more options to access school and job opportunities.

  • They bring recreational opportunities to the front door of Utah residents.

In order for people to feel comfortable riding their bikes to work or school, they have to feel and be safe. In Salt Lake County, the Parley’s Trail runs east-west across the center of the valley, and the Jordan River Trail runs all the way north-south. But to connect from one to the other you have to cross freeway ramps and seven lanes of traffic on 900 West.

We know from experience that investing to complete these types of key trail connections has a huge return on investment. A prime example is the 18-mile Murdock Canal Trail in Utah County, which runs through multiple communities and was ridden over 460,000 times in 2020. Building safe, family-friendly trails and walkways draws people to use them.

So let’s keep the momentum going.

Utah’s transportation agencies and local communities have worked together under the banner of Utah’s Unified Transportation Plan to identify regionally important active transportation projects that are ready for investment, including those reflected on this map.

Providing solid transportation options for all Utahns is fundamental to maintaining the high quality of life we enjoy. Being a world-class state for biking — for recreation and for transportation — will enhance Utah’s unparalleled quality of life by providing safe, inexpensive and healthy transportation choices to all of Utah’s residents.

State funding, leveraged by additional public and private funds, would allow a significant leap forward for transportation choices in Utah that will provide benefits for generations to come.

Andrew S. Gruber | Executive Director, Wasatch Front Regional Council

Andrew Gruber is executive director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council, which brings government, private sector, and community stakeholders together to plan for the future of our region.