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My view: Rapid Transit in Provo: Family friendly?

By Christian Nielson

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 18 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

Looking over the Provo and Orem area from the air.

Mark Philbrick

Enlarge photo»

The family unit is under attack right here in Provo. In the last two decades, the Wasatch Neighborhood (aka “The Tree Streets”) has been under relentless pressure to “zone-away” families from this prime piece of real estate.

Provo City Zoning Ordinances have become lax to investor pressures by allowing dozens of traditional family homes to convert into duplexes, apartments, even 6-plexes that are now filled with single students. Parents and children have been in decline ever since.

Lately the single most important, most expensive, and most controversial issue Provo City has ever faced (and may ever face) is the implementation of the Bus Rapid Transit system (or BRT). Utah Transit Authority, Provo City mayor, and a minority of the city council favor a proposal that routes the BRT system with its high-capacity, accordion-style, fast-buses, directly in front of Wasatch Elementary School and the 750 traditional families who live east of 9th East.

The tree street homes in Wasatch and Oak Hills have a long legacy of raising families with many children. My wife and I are raising the 4th generation of our family in this very special place. It is one of the final family enclaves in close proximity to BYU. This neighborhood has always been a desirable destination for hundreds of BYU employees to raise their children within walking/cycling distance to work. And, over the generations we have been somewhat successful at resisting pressure to alter our family legacy by rezoning it.

But the recent proposal of routing BRT up 9th East is by far the single most powerful attempt yet to uproot traditional families from their homes. It is inevitable that current single-family zoning laws will fold to the imminent pressures for high-density housing, commercialization, and urbanization of this neighborhood if the $150 million UTA expansion is approved. Half of this money comes from local taxes and the other half comes from the federal government.

Generally speaking, public transportation is made viable by “individual” ridership, people like students, commuters, etc. The individual rider is the crucial social ingredient for any public transportation system to work. After all, it seems illogical that UTA would be building a rapid transportation system for moving parents and their children to/from soccer games, birthday parties and family date nights. It is equally inconceivable that a mom would hop onto a “rapid bus” to go grocery shopping at Costco with her four children in tow and return home with all her loot and children via the bus or train, or a dad to take his wife and five children out to eat at a family restaurant via rapid transit.

Indeed, public transportation is built for and most often utilized by individual riders. Even though it is not uncommon to observe empty-bus after empty-bus along the streets of Provo it is even greater folly to claim that families need and will use even bigger more frequent buses. It is unarguable that if BRT is forced up 9th East instead of attempting better routes (like University Avenue), it will single-handedly do more to “zone-way” families than anything else. I feel that when Provo City makes choices that affect zoning laws, those choices should clearly encourage parents to raise their children here as they have done for so many generations.

On the contrary, authorities from BYU, UTA and the mayor’s office have often ignored the pleadings of these deeply rooted families in the Tree Streets, all in the name of “growth” and the need to “swiftly” take advantage of a federal hand-out. This betrayal of family is a steep price to pay for society.

The student-vibe of Provo will always ebb and flow with the ceremonies of orientation and graduation. But the foundation of the family unit in Provo must abide. Society owes their greatest support to parents who raise children, above all else. That’s the message Provo must remember when considering viable options for BRT.

Christian Neilson is a resident of Provo and a concerned citizen. He and his wife and family reside near BYU in Provo.

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