Ravell Call, Deseret News
Mayor Ralph Becker of Salt Lake City mingles in the crowd before the official groundbreaking for the Sugar House streetcar project in South Salt Lake Wednesday, May 9, 2012.

SALT LAKE CITY — Months before the Sugar House streetcar begins carrying passengers, a huge crowd gathered to debate what route the new transit line should take next.

The proposed routes would either extend the initial line from its stop at Fairmont Park on a northbound route along 1100 East, or continue east on 2100 South.

Filling the Salt Lake City Council chambers, hallway and overflow rooms, most of the long string of residents who spoke at Tuesday night's public hearing voiced opposition to the 1100 East extension, or to the streetcar in general.

Prior to the meeting, Mayor Ralph Becker and his team presented their support for the 1100 East route as the next logical expansion, based on evaluations by experts and projections for future transit development.

The top priority is moving forward with a decision and implementing it quickly, Becker said, striving for the lowest negative impact possible to residents and businesses.

No matter which direction the streetcar takes next, the decision won't eliminate the possibility of expanding routes in the future.

"I would be happy with any decision (the City Council makes) to go forward with how the extension should take place," Becker said.

The opposition presented a petition signed by nearly 1,600 people reported to live and work along 1100 East, and they delivered impassioned speeches with worries about parking availability, traffic congestion, impact to businesses and safety for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Eliza James, owner of the Boxing Is for Girls gym in Sugar House and a resident who lives on 1100 East, was quick and firm in declaring her neighborhood doesn't need a streetcar to further the development the community has long labored to create.

"This is my street. This is your street. This is everyone's street," James declared, pounding her chest and pointing a finger at the council. "We are the grit of this street, true grit. … Give us some more time. We are great, soon to be grand. We don't need a streetcar to be grand."

A trio of Westminster students decked in school T-shirts spoke on behalf of students supporting the 1100 East route, which would run parallel to the campus.

The students argued that while many at the school aren't Sugar House natives, they form an important corner of the community and account for a high volume of the area's consumers and commuters.

Opponents to the 1100 East route argued that students are capable to "walk four blocks" to their campus. A group of five students speaking against the streetcar said the student body is divided on the issue, citing concerns about parking and congestion on the street, as well as impeding area businesses.

Several who took to the podium voiced dissent to "a streetcar not named 'Desire,'" no matter which route it takes.

Donald Gaillard, who asked the council to "stop, look and listen" in considering the streetcar development, criticized the city for pitting neighbors against one another and pursuing a new transit option while existing Utah Transit Authority routes are functioning fine.

When Gaillard failed to elaborate on the "listen" section of his statement before time ran out, he merely cried in exasperation, "Nobody's listening," and received an appreciative laugh from the crowd.

Longtime Sugar House resident Sheila O'Driscoll spoke on behalf of her neighbors, particularly those who she said were unaware they lived along a potential streetcar route. She accused the city of failing to publicize the project to residents.

O'Driscoll left a pile of unwanted signs behind in the council chambers, which she said had been passed out to residents, advertising "We love 11th" for the streetcar development.

"I have lived on same corner in Sugar House for 26 years," she said. "We don't want commercial development in our neighborhood. We don't want the streetcar."

The proposed 2100 South route, which would pass Sugarhouse Park and end at 1700 East, had a warmer reception. Supporters called the area underserved, ready for development and a more logical destination.

Resident Ben Labrum lobbied on behalf of running the streetcar along 2100 South, as a possible tool to combat ever-increasing pollution.

"It seems like no one else wants the streetcar, but I do," Labrum said. "I'll tell you why: It's the air pollution. … Everywhere we go, we drive because there is no viable transit option up Parleys Way. I do want the streetcar, and I think it would be really neat the way my neighborhood is, with how wide 21st is, instead of hearing those car keys jingle to hear that trolley jingle."

Amy Barry, who lives along 2100 South, said she is a winner no matter which route the streetcar takes, applauding the council for pursuing an intermodal transit system as high-capacity apartment buildings bring a large influx of residents.

The City Council closed the meeting after 2 ½ hours of public comment, and many others submitted comment cards or taped responses in overflow rooms. Council members voted to address the issue again in a May 7 work session and possibly vote that day. Several expressed concern about the high volume of community feedback that has been submitted.

Prior to the meeting, a transit expo was staged in City-County Building's upper hallways, showcasing the city's efforts to facilitate pedestrian, bicycle and mass transit, as well as the electronic payment parking system.

Computers were also provided in the hallways for those wishing to digitally submit their input on the streetcar.

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