Regional Transportation Plans

Yesterday on Radio West the show was discussing the 2030 Transportation Plan. The 2030 transportation plan is focused on the Salt Lake Valley, but it includes the Mountain View Corridor and the Mountainland Association of Governments has a plan with a similar scope. I listened to the program with interest as many callers expressed concerns similar to mine that too much reliance on roads brings more congestion in the longterm.

One concern the planners had with putting in transit options is that they are inefficient where there is significant open space between residential areas. Considering that these plans are focused on transportation through areas that are sparsely populated right now, that sounds like a valid concern. In response to that, Marc Heileson from the Sierra Club made two compelling observations: that people cannot choose to use transit if it is not available; and that a good transit system is more than just a transit option.

A good transit system makes it easy to get between places that you need to go so that the advantages of a car are not significant when compared to the transit system. Mr. Heileson also noted that transit systems are less sensitive to changes in volume of use than roads are. Based on discussions with some of my family members who live north of Salt Lake and are affected by the changes in the transit system that are being implemented there I feel safe in concluding that it is easier to plan a good transit system in advance than it is to build or modify a transit system in established areas.

Another thought that was briefly covered in the program was the idea that transportation planning could help to shape growth and traffic patterns, and not just react to the existing and projected patterns.

Virtually absent from the discussion is the fact that transportation plans can react to poorly planned development, but they cannot truly overcome that development. Transit alone is not enough in order to have the high quality living conditions in a growing region like ours. Equally important, if not more so, is the planning for commercial and industrial development. This is important so that cities have a commercial tax base and also so that residents have employment options without being forced into long commutes. This is one area where Lehi, and the northern end of Utah County in general have not traditionally done very well. Based on the plans I have seen from the city of Lehi I am hopeful that this situation will be remedied in the coming years.

I was planning to give a detailed breakdown of the Mountainland Association of Governments’ regional transportation plan, but I think this post is too long already so I’ll save that for another day.

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About David

David is the father of 8 extremely organized children (4 girls / 4 boys) who is constantly seeking answers to tough questions related to parenting, education and politics while moonlighting for 40 hours each week as a technology professional. He also enjoys cooking, gardening, and sports.
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2 Responses to Regional Transportation Plans

  1. Jason Black says:

    I’m a big fan of alternative transportation (trains, buses, subways, etc.), so long as the need and demand on the part of the public is such that the system can pay for itself. Large cities with populations that require such systems make them profitable. In many countries, car ownership and frequent use is prohibitively expensive, so alternative transportation is an important part of life.

    What’s important is that it’s all demand driven. People want it enough to pay for it – without governmental providence or subsidies. I grew up in a town of about 200,000 inhabitants. We had a great bus system that could take you anywhere in town for $0.50. The problem was that the local residents that did not need or want the system had to pay out the nose for it. Barely anyone used the buses. Most of the time they drove around town empty or nearly empty. Taxes were continually increasing to pay for the system, yet few wanted it.

    I do recognize that the system was a great boon to some few lower income families. However, the money that was wasted on public transportation was so enormous, that they could have taken the same money and bought all the bus users a car plus gas.

    I don’t know the particular details of the situation in the Salt Lake region. I simply hope the local governments don’t bankroll a cumbersome system that costs more than it’s worth to the public. I hope those involved with making the system there work have done enough local market research to know that demand will drive the system.

  2. David says:

    You bring up a good point. I agree that a great transportation system should not be put in with money from taxpayers in the absence of demand. When we talk about the cost of building and maintaining a transportation system I am certainly no expert, but I see some very positive information that suggests to me that this need not be like the bus system were you grew up.

    Right now there are two parts to the Wasatch Front area. The north part, mainly Salt Lake County, has built a light rail system which began operating about 5 years ago. So far their ridership has exceeded expectations significantly. The south part, Utah Valley, has plans for commuter rail but no existing transit system except a fairly sparse bus system.

    Some people, like me, are pushing for a more comprehensive transit system because what we currently have is not enough to be very useful. We are already facing severe traffic problems in some areas and population is expected to nearly double in the next 20 years. In November, voters overwhelmingly approved a 1/4 percent sales tax increase to fund improvements in our transportation situation.

    Putting those facts together, I think that the demand is there to justify making a good transit system that will alleviate our current problem as well as meet the demands of a fast-growing population. I also hope that it can be accomplished without undue financial burden on taxpayers.

    For my part, I am writing on this subject in hopes of increasing awareness and demand for a good system.

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