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Maddie Melini: Roads are for people, not just for cars

Plans for Wasatch Boulevard should consider pedestrians, children, bicycles and transit.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Eric Kraan, leads a group of people down Wasatch Blvd., for a Save Not Pave march and rally on Saturday, May 22, 2021, in opposition to the proposal to widening Wasatch Blvd., between the canyon section of Big and Little Cottonwood canyon.

With the public hearings and open houses about UDOT’s proposed gondola or bus service options for Little Cottonwood Canyon behind us, one of the crucial components of the conversations surrounding this project included the widening of Wasatch Boulevard.

While public comments for the Little Cottonwood EIS survey remain open until Sept. 3, UDOT states that 2.4-mile stretch of road along Wasatch Boulevard will be expanded to six lanes (three to five imbalanced lanes with shoulders) and has also stated that “the controlling factor for the imbalanced lane and 5-lane alternatives are southbound rush hour commuters.” This created confusion, as the proposed expansion tied to this project has nothing to do with skiers and their ability to get up the canyon.

We here at Save Not Pave believe that everyone should be able to use roads, whether it be families living alongside them, school children needing to cross them, cyclists riding them or vehicles driving them. They should not just be designed for the biggest and fastest thing on them, but for everyone. Roads should work for communities, not divide them.

We realize that our city and the valley at large are undergoing massive growth, and that is good. We welcome progress and development. However, we cannot plan for the future using models derived decades ago. We have changed. Our commutes have changed, housing prices have changed, even in the last year the typical 9-to-5 in an office has changed.

We are calling for our local city and county governments to change along with us, and study the “add one more lane” model that has been the default response for traffic in Utah. What resolutions in your city and/or county promote this systemic model? What resolutions can we include to make your city a destination for cyclists and pedestrians instead of just a “pass-thru”?

Now is the time to think about smart urban planning for our suburbs, too. We can no longer default to a transportation system that only promotes a car-centric modality. Doing so isolates tourists, cyclists and those who aren’t able to drive or those who choose not to make a drive for every trip.

There is a reason why “construction” has been the joke of our state when we talk about our four seasons. Utahns have long dealt with the chronic disease of paving over perceived traffic problems. And that tripe is tired. Because we are tired. We are tired of having to drive our kids a few blocks to friends’ houses because our neighborhoods don’t have safety measures in place for pedestrians or cyclists due to high speeds, inadequate crosswalks, unprotected bike lanes or lack of transit. We are tired of the noise and air pollution. We can do better to foster sustainable growth and active transportation that allows for all who want to use our roads so that our communities are safe for everyone.

Before we irrevocably asphalt over our communities, stop and ask yourself if it benefits that community. Ask yourself if these changes will become just another problem passed on to the next generation. Then ask yourself if there are other options.

We need enhancements, we welcome growth, but we can and should design and implement strategies that create vibrant communities where everyone can engage and come together, instead of just throwing up our hands and shrugging off road widening to “urban sprawl.”

We aren’t the first community to have ever experienced huge amounts of growth, but if we respond to this boom in ways that allow all who live here a seat at the table, we can innovate and design roads and spaces that make sense and are safe for everyone. Whether we live and travel in that space using our feet, bicycle pedals, transit or cars.

Maddie Melini

Maddie Melini, Cottonwood Heights, has a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University and a master’s degree from Utah State University. After having worked in various capacities in the nonprofit and government sectors, she currently enjoys teaching high school English. When she is not taking care of her two beautiful kids, she is active in her community advocating for SaveNotPave.org to create spaces that they too can enjoy as they grow older.

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