Analysis: It’s time to think about a Trax station at 1700 South

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Developers last week unveiled their latest pitch for increasing the density along 1700 South: An apartment building with 179 housing units would replace a Polish bakery at 380 W. 1700 S. in the Ballpark neighborhood, only the latest such project proposed for the area recently.

It made us wonder: At what point has the area between existing Trax stations at 1300 South and 2100 South densified enough to support its own station between the two? What’s the right spacing between light-rail stations? And is it possible we’re at a point where the Utah Transit Authority and Salt Lake City should take steps to building a station on 1700 South?

We added up all the projects that have recently come online or are being built, plus the existing housing within our study area, and considered whether a new stop is warranted.

According to our analysis, the area is densifying enough to meet minimum standards to support regular transit service, and a half-mile might be an acceptable distance between two Trax stations.

Here’s what we looked at and why it might be time to hand the questions off to the experts at UTA, Salt Lake City and the transit riding public to decide.

We looked at the area between Interstate 15 and State Street and 1500 South to 1900 South to see whether existing and incoming densities justified an additional Trax station at 1700 South.

Our criteria

UTA doesn’t have its own criteria for determining minimum housing and retail density to support infill transit stations, the agency said. But it recently realized it could benefit from that type of guiding criteria.

“UTA and WFRC determined that a more formalized approach to possible infill stations was needed,” a UTA transit planner told us via email.

So we sought out to determine the existing and incoming density in the area from Interstate 15 to State Street, Andrew (about 1500 South) and Grove Ave (about 1900 South). We chose the streets that would allow someone to walk to a transit station at 1700 South in less time than options to the north or south, at 1300 South and 2100 South.

Then we found the existing density for that roughly 280-acre stretch of land.

According to a map of housing inventory managed by the Wasatch Front Regional Council, 64 percent of all housing units in the area were multifamily as of January 2020. At that time, there were an estimated 661 multifamily units and an additional 372 single-family units.

We used our Building Salt Lake Permitting Search feature to find the projects that have been built or proposed recently and weren’t reflected on the WFRC housing inventory map from the past three years.

We’re aware of as many as 1,514 additional multifamily units that have either been built since then, already exist and weren’t counted on the WFRC map or have been proposed. That number could vary slightly and includes estimates for projects that haven’t been through permitting yet.

Transportation planners generally expect a minimum of 8 units per acre to support regular transit service. For an urban-oriented station — that is, one without off-street parking — that number rises to 15 units per acre.

The existing and incoming housing in our subject area total just over 9 residential units per acre and expected to rise as warehouse and industrial space in the neighborhood continues moving to the Northwest Quadrant, freeing up more space for redevelopment and more dense housing.

That’s not including the employees within the study area, either, which include hundreds more potential daily transit riders and would push existing demand even higher.

Housing approved or recently built

  • 20 units at 1709 S. Major.
  • 36 condos at The Penny.
  • 13 condos at The Abbie.
  • 24 townhomes at 1700 S West Temple
  • 200 beds at the Gail Miller Homeless Resource Center (apparently not counted in WFRC housing mix)
  • 16 units at 1805 S. Main
  • 11 townhomes at 1570 S. Main
  • 7 townhomes at 1583 S. Main
  • 5 townhomes at 1618 S. Main

Proposed

  • 179 units at 380 W 1700 S.
  • 30 units at 1734 S. West Temple (estimated)
  • 250 units at 1518 S. Main St. (estimated)

With the likely continued buildout of 300 West from a road lined with industrial uses and warehousing into dense housing and retail outlets, at the very least it’s time to start discussions around a new Trax station.

Cushman & Wakefield brokers just listed another 5.1 acres of land on what would be the southwest corner of 1700 S. 200 W. (the Trax line) in a development pitch for buyers who would likely build multifamily housing.

Investors bought over 6 acres of land within the area with plans for redevelopment over the long term into a mix of housing and commercial, and it’s likely both the 300 West and 1700 South corridors will see more high-density housing in the mid-term.

The density is comparable to several others with urban stops, including the stretch between 500 South and 900 South, which is home to stops on 600 S. Main and in Central 9th. It is higher than the density in similar-sized areas around 2100 South and 1300 South.

The analysis obviously accounts for existing densities without considering the development appeal to build near transit, and both 1300 South and 2100 South attracted more density immediately surrounding those stations.

Affordable housing along a transit corridor, Salt Lake City. Photo by Luke Garrott

Is a half-mile too close (or just right)?

Density near transit is a key component, though it’s not the whole ballgame. Communities that are transit oriented work best if they have a mix of uses, affordability and block connectivity.

Planners would also have to consider impacts to transit speed.

Such a project would have an impact on transit service. But it would put thousands of people within a short walk of three fixed-rail lines leading to West Valley, South Jordan and Draper, as well as the University of Utah, Downtown and the airport.

Adding stations would add perhaps a minute to every trip on the lines passing through the area, while saving thousands of people 10 to 20 minutes to walk to other existing stations. (Many simply wouldn’t use transit.) It’s also worth considering that other state agencies would literally tear down neighborhoods to prevent a 10- to 15-minute delay in a car commute. 

UTA could add express trains that skip some of the local stations, as is done in other regions.

Plus, a half-mile spacing might even make sense to begin with.

Jarrett Walker is a renowned transit planner based in Portland, Oregon, who runs the transit-focused website Human Transit.

Walker has said that “transit planners generally observe that the walking distance that most people seem to tolerate — the one beyond which ridership falls off drastically — is about 400m (around ¼ mile) for a local-stop service, and about 1000m (around 0.6 miles) for a very fast, frequent and reliable rapid transit service.”

The gap between 2100 South and 1300 South appears to be among the widest in the Trax system in Salt Lake City, indicating UTA already views a half-mile as an appropriate spacing for stations.

But stops in Salt Lake City are already spaced around 0.7 miles apart on average, according to the Federal Transit Administration.

Remember, UTA last year opened the station at 600 S. Main St., a 0.2-mile, 5-minute walk south of Courthouse Station.

Adding a stop on 1700 South would space stations between would reduce a significantly longer walking commute for people living in the area.

For a resident of the newly built City Lofts apartments, the walk would be just under a mile to the station at 1300 South or 2100 South. It’s hard to imagine that person walking that far to take a local trip (or any trip). Good thing the apartments include hundreds of parking stalls on multiple levels overlooking a possible future transit stop.

If Salt Lake City and UTA wanted to encourage more ridership and decrease car dependency, what would need to happen?

What would need to happen?

A few things make this a possibility, the first of which is that we’re not pulling this concept out of thin air.

The concept of a station here has been around for years and recently the city put the idea into an adopted master plan for Ballpark.

Salt Lake City recently adopted an updated master plan for the area surrounding the 1300 South Trax station. The study largely neglected the area in question (cutting off completely in the middle of 1700 South), but did mention a “proposed future 1700 S Trax Station” at 1700 South.

UTA noted any additional transit stop would involve working with Salt Lake City, meaning the two might share costs if they made this a priority, but it said there were no active plans to add a station there.

In tandem with any work on that front, Salt Lake City could consider upzoning the area to push the residential density even higher and incentivize housing development closer to 1700 South.

Zoning revisions should happen anyways, as the existing General Commercial (CG) zoning is car-centric.

But the next step that needs to happen is for the city and UTA to pay attention to the development happening in Ballpark and think about whether this would be a relatively easy change to improve service.

Email Taylor Anderson

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Posted by Taylor Anderson

Taylor Anderson grew up near Chicago and made his way West to study journalism at the University of Montana. He's been a staff writer for the Chicago Tribune, Bend Bulletin and Salt Lake Tribune. A move from Portland, Oregon, to Salt Lake City opened his eyes to the importance of good urban design for building strong neighborhoods. He lives on the border of the Liberty Wells and Ballpark neighborhoods.