Mayor selects regional transit expert to lead transportation division
A day before the Salt Lake City Council is set to hold a public hearing on the city’s first-ever Transit Master Plan, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski has announced her selection of Jon Larsen for the Transportation Division Director of Salt Lake City.
“This is a unique position that is certainly a tall order, but I believe my experience has prepared me for the job,” Larsen said in a statement.
Larsen’s appointment will not need to be approved by the City Council. Larsen will be the city’s first Transportation Director since Robin Hutchenson, Salt Lake City’s award-winning former Transportation Director announced her departure for a new position in Minnesota in June of 2016. For the past year, Interim Director Kevin Young has overseen the department.
Larsen currently serves as the director of modeling and data for the Wasatch Front Regional Council (WFRC), a post he has held for the past six years. While at WFRC, he led a team of engineers and planners in providing technical analysis for all modes of travel. Last year, Larsen and his team created a story map tool based on data gathered to measure vibrancy and walkability in key areas across Salt Lake County. Before he joined WFRC, Larsen worked as a transportation engineer and project manager for both WCEC Engineers and Fehr & Peers.
“In his time at the Wasatch Front Regional Council, Jon has helped our entire region to plan for the challenges and opportunities of growth,” said Andrew Gruber, WFRC Executive Director, in a statement. “Jon’s experience in planning for a balanced transportation system that meets the needs of all users will help our capital city enhance its transportation system.”
The Transportation Division is responsible for the planning, design, and operation of the transportation system across Salt Lake City, including walking, biking, transit, and auto travel. As director, Larsen will manage programs and initiatives to improve mobility and access and will lead in support of an improved, sustainable transportation grid.
“All eyes are focused on better transit in Salt Lake City,” said Mayor Biskupski. “Jon brings a deep understanding of the unique and complex transportation issues our communities face, and I am confident that under his leadership, we will meet those challenges.”
As the new director, Larsen will take the lead in implementing Salt Lake City’s first ever Transit Master Plan, which focuses on increasing connectivity, affordability, and enhanced transit routes to improve the city’s transit network.
Larsen is set to begin his tenure as director on October 9th. Additionally, he currently sits as the chair of the Utah chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) and is an active member of the Utah chapter of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE).
In a press release, Biskupski praised Young’s work as Interim Director for the past year. Over the summer the mayor’s dedication to transportation issues was criticized by several council members including Derek Kitchen who in June sent an email to his District Four constituents criticizing the administration for the lack of a director as the city prepares to adopt the transit plan.
“I’m happy that we finally have an expert at the table to help guide us through very important transportation decisions,” said Kitchen in a Facebook message to Building Salt Lake. “Items like the Transit Master Plan and the Airport Trax extension are generational opportunities that must be done right.”
In addition to seeing that the Transit Master Plan is effectively implemented, Larsen will be tasked with further implementing the Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan which calls for making streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists by being made more complete (designed for pedestrians, cyclists, transit and vehicular traffic) while expanding the bikeway network with low-stress bikeways and moving away from conventional bikeways(bikeways that run between parked cars and moving traffic).
The plan was passed by the City Council in 2015 under the previous mayoral administration. The plan seeks to build 220-miles of bikeways citywide by 2035. Cyclist groups like Cycling Utah, have criticized the mayor’s implementation of the master plan and dedication to building low-stress bikeways.
According to the Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan executive summary, the city defines low-stress bikeways as “protected and buffered bike lanes and neighborhood byways (that) appeal to people who want more separation from traffic” and states that “development of a low-stress bikeway network is a key component of this master plan.”
While the recently opened first phase of the McClelland Trail (a bikeway that connects 800 South to Fairmont Park along portions of McClelland Street) contains several off-street pave portions, other recent bikeway projects have moved away from low-stress bikeways.
The recently completed 300 South bikeway extension from 600 East to the University of Utah relied on conventional bikeways and shared lanes, the only type of bikeway that is discouraged in the master plan. Additionally, plans for a redesign of 900 West, call for a conventional bikeway between 300 and 800 South. The five-block stretch of bikeway could be made low-stress by simply switching the bikeway with the designated on-street parking as was done on portions of 300 East near downtown.
The Salt Lake City Council will hold public hearings on the Transit Master Plan tonight and October 3rd during their formal City Council meeting.