Council moves to restore potential streetcar corridors to transit plan

Map of the proposed Frequent Transit Network in the draft Transit Master Plan. Image courtesy Salt Lake City public documents.

Salt Lake City is poised to have its first ever transit master plan and unlike previous versions of the draft plan, the final version will be slightly less bus-centric.

In a straw poll, the Salt Lake City Council unanimously voted on Tuesday to add language to the draft Transit Master Plan that would include the framework for a streetcar network with specific routes identified as potential streetcar corridors should funding become available.

“I can’t imagine us applying for TIGER grants or other future funding opportunities without having it as part of our master plan,” said Councilmember Erin Mendenhall.  “I think the lack of inclusion would mean that when those funding opportunities come along it becomes politics de jour that decide what we are applying for.”

Councilmember Charlie Luke seconded that Mendenhall’s request arguing that a key motivation behind the transit plan was to have a framework in place so that when funds became available there would be a clear direction on how to specifically utilize those funds.   “It seems really weird to adopt any sort of a plan without that critical piece in place,” he said.

Both councilmembers directly referenced the proposed S-Line extension and downtown streetcar routes that the previous council had formally identified under the former Mayor Ralph Becker administration.

The current version of the draft Transit Master Plan identifies current and future Frequent Transit Networks that will serve as high-frequency corridors with bus and train routes running at least every 15 minutes.  But language in the draft plan focuses on bus transit and only identifies currently active rail corridors.

Mendenhall questioned why specific language identifying potential streetcar routes was removed from the draft plan.  Transportation Division staff acknowledged that earlier drafts identified the proposed S-Line expansion and downtown streetcar route but transportation staff were advised by the new administration to remove that language.

“We started this master planning process under a different administration that had a different appetite for streetcars than our current administration,” said Mendenhall. ” And now it feels like we are being asked as a council to say if we actually want to put that stuff back in.”

Although the S-Line streetcar has had its critics, especially for its 20-minute frequency and limited hours when the line first opened, according to UTA data the line has the fifth highest rate of riders per mile than every bus and rail route in UTA’s transit network.  Additionally, construction will start next year on a new line of track between 500 and 300 East in South Salt Lake that will allow the streetcar to run every 15 minutes.

Transportation Manager, Cris Jones told the council that while the language was removed addressing the proposed downtown and S-Line expansion routes, the current language in the plan identifies corridors that would initially be focused on bus routes but provide the flexibility for staff to explore future rail use for those corridors.

Additionally Luke asked transportation staff explore a circulator bus that would connect the Stadium TRAX Station to Hogle Zoo, This is the Place Heritage Park,  Red Butte Garden and the Utah Natural History Museum.

Councilmember Lisa Adams requested staff explore a dedicated bus lane on Foothill Boulevard, longer service hours for the Green Line, better transit connectivity to the International Center and Sunday FrontRunner service.

“If we are really trying to reduce car trips we need to do that,” said Adams.

The newly appointed Transportation Director, Jon Larsen told the council that UDOT and UTA were very receptive to a dedicated bus lane on Foothill and that city could look into increasing affordable access to transit through working with local businesses to make tickets to games or events serve as transit passes similar to tickets to University of Utah games.  Larsen also mentioned that the city could look at ways to encourage businesses in the retail service and hospitality industries to incentivize them to make discounted bus passes available to employees.

“Let’s get it done,” said Mendenhall of the plan.

Transportation staff will document the council’s requested changes to the draft plan with a final version available by November 28th.

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Posted by Isaac Riddle

Isaac Riddle grew up just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. He has a BA in English literature from the University of Utah and a Masters of Journalism from Temple University. Isaac has written for Next City, The Philadelphia Public School Notebook and Salt Lake City Weekly. Before embarking on a career in journalism, Isaac taught High School English in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. Isaac is the founder of Building Salt Lake and can be reached at isaac@buildingsaltlake.com.