SLC’s Green Loop aims for a future safe enough for children to bike around Downtown

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I took a walking tour with the people working to shape the future of green space in Downtown Salt Lake. 

Chances are you’ve heard of the Green Loop project: An ambitious redesign of a rectangle of Downtown streets to provide more walkable and bikeable green space. Last week the project team held an open house with walking and biking tours to talk to local residents about the project. 

I joined the mayor, members of the project team (a mix of consultants and city staff), and about 35 other Salt Lake residents on one of the walking tours. While the Green Loop itself will be a five-mile loop, the tour focused mostly on the section of 200 East between the Main City Library and 300 South. This section is planned as the main civic center of the project. 

Couldn’t catch the tours? Here’s what you missed. 

Here’s what we’re excited about

Green Space – The selling point of this project from the beginning has been increasing access to green space downtown. Today, only 30% of downtown is within a 5-minute walk from a green open space.

Images courtesy NTS and Wenk Associates.

During the first round of community feedback, the group found that the highest priority for residents was urban forestry (think more shade, less urban heat island effect, less air and noise pollution, etc.). The green loop will incorporate 50 acres of open space (the equivalent of about five Pioneer Parks!) into the heart of Downtown.

Bike Facilities – After urban forestry, the next highest priority from community feedback was bike facilities. The project promises to feature dedicated space for people on bikes, with a focus on family-friendly biking.

Greg Dorolek of Wenk Associates, who led the tour, caught our attention when he shared the project team’s vision of a four-year-old on a tricycle feeling safe here. An almost unreal future to imagine while standing on present day 200 East. 

Skinnier Roads – Among other things, the Green Loop includes a road diet strategy. At one point, Dorolek walked into the center of 200 East to demonstrate just how much road space would be reclaimed for pedestrian space and programming (everything behind him in the photo will be part of the future Green Loop).

Greg Dorolek of Wenk Associates demonstrates how much space will be reclaimed on 200 East for park space with the design. Photo by Alicia Seeley.

This also means that crossing intersections on foot will be safer and more comfortable; the time that pedestrians are crossing through the same space as automobile traffic will be cut in half, such as will be the case on 400 South (next to the library TRAX station).

Civic Space – What is the next evolution for the open space in Library Square and Washington Park? The project team shared ideas of bringing some of the amazing programming from the Library and the Leonardo Museum outside to be part of the public realm; creating space not just for big events, but for an enhanced everyday experience (such as cafes, games, art galleries, or science exhibits).

200 East between 400 and 500 South. Image courtesy NTS and Wenk Associates.

There was also discussion about space for a possible iconic art installation, citing examples like Cloud Gate in Millennium Park in Chicago (you might know it better as ‘The Bean’). 

Here’s what we’re still not sure about

This project sounds dreamy, but at this stage it’s not without some anticipated challenges and unknown variables. 

SLC megablocks – We already know that our city has some of the largest blocks in the country. Some sections along the Green Loop alignment have as many as nine curb cuts in a single block to provide business access. The project team talked about challenges with mitigating conflict between bikes/peds and drivers in these driveway access points.

They aren’t exactly sure yet how they will treat these spaces, but they promised to put special care into designing these spaces to prioritize pedestrians and bikes for the safest experience possible. 

Arterial crossings – Green Loop users will still have to cross some major downtown streets (400, 500, and 600 South, as well as 500 and 600 West). At present, crossing those roads as a pedestrian isn’t exactly family friendly, and traffic isn’t likely to let up anytime soon. The project team will have to coordinate with UDOT to determine what these intersections will look like, and they are sure to pose some challenges. 

Pushback – Where there is any discussion of taking away space for cars, there will inevitably be pushback. The project will take away many street parking spots and significantly reduce speeds in the affected corridors. This doesn’t always go over well with our car-loving neighbors commuting through or into the capital city. Will support for more green pedestrian space overpower the support for continued car-dependence? 

This future corridor we’re envisioning is a tall order, to say the least. Once car-oriented systems are in place, they are extremely difficult to reverse

Truly designed for all ages and abilities?

The Green Loop project is aiming for bike and pedestrian infrastructure that is truly ‘all ages and abilities’, a term often cited in urban planning as the ultimate goal of equitable mobility. And this means so much more than bike lanes.

According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), only 6–10% of adults in the US generally feel comfortable riding in mixed traffic or painted bike lanes, but nearly two-thirds of the adult would be interested in riding more often, given better places to ride. Bikeways that eliminate stress from car traffic will attract traditionally underrepresented bicyclists, including women, children, and seniors. 

Strategies to eliminate traffic stress usually include slowing down – or eliminating – traffic and creating actual physical barriers between cyclists and cars (trees and landscaping strips, curbs, bollards, and preferably as much space as possible), not just a thin stripe of paint. 

At this stage, the Green Loop designs are mostly conceptual, and haven’t yet gotten into the small details.

Remember that hypothetical four-year-old on a tricycle? It’s going to take a lot of careful planning and creative solutions to design a space where she is comfortable and safe from distracted drivers and cars pulling out of driveways. But this is what we deserve, and this is exactly the standard we need to expect and advocate for as the plan moves forward. 

Here’s how you can still participate: 

  • Take the survey – The next round of public feedback gives you an opportunity to view the current conceptual designs and let the team know what you think. The survey will be open until the end of November, so don’t miss your chance to voice your opinion, and don’t be afraid to dream a little. 

Take the Survey  

Alicia Seeley is a professional urban planner living and working in Salt Lake City.

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