Some transit matters in Utah
1. Poor transit to ski resorts in Salt Lake County. During covid, the Utah Transit Authority had a hiring freeze, which now means that they don't have enough drivers and are cutting service as a result. One of the services cut, partly because they don't have enough drivers with the experience to drive in serious snow and mountain/canyon conditions, is the UTA Ski Bus service, which serves Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, home to four popular ski resorts.
So the County Tourism Office, Visit Salt Lake, has contracted with a private operator to provide additional service ("New ski shuttle to launch in Cottonwood canyons this week," Salt Lake Tribune). It's $10 round trip, which seems reasonable. Although equity based options should be made available too. From the article:
But this should be a basic function of the local transit authority and it is damning that they can't pull it off.
The “Cottonwood Connect” ski shuttle will provide passengers $10 round-trip rides to either Alta and Snowbird in Little Cottonwood Canyon, or Brighton and Solitude in Big Cottonwood Canyon, on a first-come, first-serve basis beginning Thursday morning.
Service will run on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, as well as holidays, through April 16. Reservations must be made online in advance.
Riders can choose from 11 different locations for morning pickup — such as the Highland Park park-and-ride, or the Cottonwood Hyatt Place hotel. Then, they can select their ski resort destination, along with a time slot for return from the slopes.A full list of stops and routes for the service are on the Visit Salt Lake website, here Cottonwood Connect.
2. Especially since the Utah Department of Transportation's study of Little Cottonwood proposes gondola service. I am fine with it. But that doesn't mean that there aren't serious planning failures in the process.
-- Little Cottonwood Canyon EIS
-- The Gondola Works (website of proponents)
But they didn't propose it as part of an overall transportation demand management approach, and many quarters are opposed--which I don't really understand since gondolas are an exciting mode as part of a full range of transit options, especially in topographically challenged areas.
Although legitimate criticism can be made that the process hasn't been conceptualized or handled very well.
For example, it only proposes winter service, even though the Canyon is utilized just as much in the spring, summer and fall. And there's talk that riding the gondola would cost $200 which is insane.
3. Recreation Transit District concept. The failure to have a full TDM approach not just to Little Cottonwood Canyon but to Big Cottonwood and other outdoor recreation destinations, I have prepared an outline for the creation of what I call a "recreation transit district" in Salt Lake County to provide service to various recreational sites across the county. FWIW, the Ski Bus service only runs in winter, while the canyons are used year round, and most recreational sites across the county aren't served by transit.
From a transportation demand management and equity perspective, you shouldn't be required to have a car to be able to recreate.
I first wrote up the proposal in June, in response to a road project in Millcreek Canyon, and it uses a variety of recreational transit examples including Seattle, Colorado ("8 Ways to Get to the Mountains This Winter Without Driving Yourself," 5280), and Utah's own Park City, which has an extensive in city transit system serving all the ski resorts, and is free. And how Greater Seattle's Crystal Mountain Ski Resort has an extensive TDM program including free bus service ("Crystal Mountain is taking on parking woes with a shuttle. Our reporter took the bus to ski," Seattle Times). But it needs an update.
But there are more opportunities to submit it, as there are two other ongoing studies, a transit study for Big Cottonwood Canyon, and the Tri-Canyons Trails Master Plan access study by the US Forest Service, which controls most of the lands in Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons and Millcreek Canyon.
Both have public comment and/or public meetings happening currently.
4. Free transit proposal. In 2022, transit on UTA (train, light rail, streetcar, bus) was free in the month of February (Free Fare February Final Report, UTA). Previously, there had been free days here and there, usually associated with days where air quality was particularly bad.
But free transit for entire month got people wanting it to be free all the time. Apparently the Utah Legislature is considering a proposal to test this for one year, perhaps in the next fiscal year ("Free transit for a year has to get past the Utah Legislature first," KUER/NPR).
Interestingly, transit in Park City (Park City Transit) and Summit County (High Valley Transit) and Cache County/Logan, where Utah State University is, is run independent of UTA, which provides transit in the Salt Lake Valley in multiple counties, is already free.
5. Free transit during the period around the NBA All Star Game. I've written in the past about how for example, on Inauguration Day in DC, transit should be free ("Should transit on Inauguration Day be free?," 2013/2016), and how transit use is built into the ticketing process for some sports arenas ("Seattle Kraken expansion hockey team sets new standard for transit benefits in transportation demand management: free transit with ticket," 2019).
For the period associated with the NBA All Star Game in Salt Lake, from February 12th to February 21st, UTA transit will be free, which is pretty cool ("UTA to have 10 zero-fare days for NBA All-Star game," ABC4).
6. High Valley Transit steps up and takes over a bus route from Salt Lake to Park City that UTA severely truncated. In another boneheaded move that sacrifices transit network breadth, the Utah Transit Authority changed the route of the SLC-PC Connect bus, Salt Lake City to Park City, eliminating all the stops in Salt Lake City, and re-routing it to a Park and Ride Lot in Millcreek, next to I-215, because of driver shortages ("In a major move, UTA to sharply cut back bus service in three counties, and it’s going to affect skiers," Salt Lake Tribune).
As it was the bus started at the Salt Lake Central transit station, not the Airport, which meant it had minimal opportunity to capture transit trips from the Airport to Park City.
Shockingly, Summit County recognized this was not beneficial to them, and took over the route ("New commuter bus route from SLC to Park City rolls out this weekend," KPCW/NPR). One problem is the original UTA bus service used the big inter city buses with plenty of room for luggage and bike racks on the front. I'm not sure the HVT bus is the same, although I haven't taken it yet so I don't know for certain.
7. Rio Grande Depot/Rail Undergrounding Proposal. I went to a presentation a few days ago about a citizen plan to recenter train service on the historic Rio Grande Station.
The railroad tracks were relocated a couple blocks behind the station around 2000. to a pretty gnarly set of platforms and a intermodal transit facility that doesn't have the grandeur or centrality of the rail station.
It's a pretty interesting idea, and would require relocating the railroad tracks underground and the light rail tracks closer. It would repattern the land use significantly, allowing for significant build out opportunity of more than 50 acres.
It could also refocus attention on transit as a legitimate mode, and recenter Salt Lake City's competitive advantages in part around transit.
I will be writing about this separately.
8. Mayors initiative to extend passenger rail service to Boise and Las Vegas. UTA has a decent commuter line, from Provo to Ogden, called the Frontrunner. Ideally, it would be extended in both directions, to Southern Utah, and north to Logan.
Last year, the mayors of Salt Lake and Boise came together on an initiative to reconnect the cities by railroad ("A Utah train to Idaho? Salt Lake, Boise leaders are working to restore old service," KSL-TV; "Train corridors proposed connecting Boise, Las Vegas to Salt Lake City," Fox13). Similarly, service could be extended to Las Vegas, where it could then connect to Los Angeles.
In one way, it would merely restore services that once existed, service from Los Angeles to Salt Lake via Las Vegas, and service from Salt Lake to Idaho, Portland, and Washington. Those trains were cancelled in 1999.
It should be pursued as a next step in the Rio Grande Plan. And is basically along the lines of how I argue rail transit service should be organized in the US ("Two train/regional transit ideas: Part 1 | Amtrak should acquire Greyhound") modeled after Japan.UDOT unveils details on new $1.6B widening of I-15 through SLC," Building Salt Lake).
-- UDOT releases transportation alternatives for I-15 from Farmington to Salt Lake City
Given that Frontrunner parallels it, it's an impressive example of the failure to undertake multimodal corridor management. As David Engwicht, the creator of the concept of transportation demand management realized, if you reduce the number of motor vehicles, you don't have to widen roads.
This piece has links to past entries concerning corridor management.
-- "Washington Post letter to the editor on repair-related closure of Rockville and Shady Grove Stations and corridor management" (2021)
Labels: bus transit, corridor management, railroad passenger services, transit marketing, transit planning, transportation demand management, transportation planning, urban design/placemaking
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