Bus Rapid Transit in Ogden: City promotes development opportunities

Utah Transit Authority’s long pursuit of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line in Ogden from FrontRunner commuter rail to Weber State is finally coming to fruition. The line, with a dedicated bus-only lane for half its route, will run from Ogden Station, along 23rd and 25th Streets, down Harrison Boulevard to Weber State University and McKay-Dee Hospital.

Part of this initiative is Ogden City’s recently completed plan called “Ogden Onboard,” its vision for a corridor where urban design can prosper.

Recent economic development efforts in Utah’s historical railroad hub have been focused in the downtown Ogden Station area, which is sprinkled with redevelopment zones. The new plan envisions improvements and enhanced development opportunities in Downtown, East-Central, along Harrison Boulevard and in the WSU-McKay Dee neighborhoods.

Bus Rapid Transit is enhanced bus service that, according to UTA, offers “many of the amenities of light rail, like frequent service, traffic signal priority, ticket vending machines, shelters and benches.”  The transit agency currently runs two BRT lines, in West Valley along 35rd South from Magna to Millcreek Trax (MAX 3500 S) and the highly successful Provo-Orem BRT (UVX), which serves both the UVU and BYU campuses. The Ogden line and a proposed line connecting Davis County to Salt Lake City are UTA’s next projects in the BRT queue.

UTA seems to be modeling its Ogden BRT line on Provo-Orem, which enjoys a dedicated lane for the majority of its route and free passes for BYU and UVU students and staff. The normal fare is $5.50 one-way and has 6-10 minute service at every stop from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Those frequencies drop precipitously in the early morning and late night hours (the last bus at night is at 1 a.m., and morning service begins at 4 a.m.).  UTA has yet to release details on Ogden BRT travel times, fare, frequencies and hours of operation. The agency estimates it will take three to four years to complete the route.

Ogden BRT study area and impact footprint. Image courtesy Ogden Onboard.

Ogden city, meanwhile, wants to take advantage of enhanced public transit to promote good urban development along the line. The vision builds on existing assets, like the high daily ridership of Route 603 (1500 riders per day) and neighborhood plans along the corridor that call for pedestrian improvements and enhanced connections to transit. Reflecting best practices, the bus line and improved infrastructure will be integrated with bike routes. Affordable housing, compact infill development, and higher-density multi-family buildings are all highlighted as goals.

While acknowledging that the biggest opportunities are downtown, the city’s plan calls for significant improvements along 25th Street in East-Central, including a “neighborhood center” at 25th and Monroe.

Officials also identified the Harrison corridor and the unique environs of the Weber State and McKay-Dee campuses as additional key areas that could present multiple development opportunities.  Economic analysis in the report terms the BRT corridor an “emerging market.”

Given the plan’s ambitions, Ogden City would seem to have its hands full implementing it. The plan calls for significant investment to fix degraded sidewalks and non-functioning ramps to improve walkability.  The city also expects to make significant infrastructure improvements to accommodate bikes and neighborhood micro-mobility (rolling, skating, scootering). In addition, the plan suggests a number of necessary planning and zoning reforms. To realize the Ogden Onboard vision of good urban development, the Planning Division and elected officials will have to advance ordinances that include, for example, density bonuses for mixed-income apartments, streamlined review for permit applicants, and fewer restrictions on the siting of student housing.

Posted by Luke Garrott

Luke Garrott, PhD, has published in The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News, and written features for the Salt Lake City Weekly City Guide and The West View. A former two-term councilman in Salt Lake City's District 4, he lives in Downtown Salt Lake City and grew up in the Chicago area.