George Chapman’s recent opinion piece about Salt Lake City’s protected bike lanes contains multiple statements lacking factual basis (“Salt Lake sends mixed message with dangerous cycle tracks,” Oct. 6). The 300 South installation, the first of its kind in Utah, is a project that has generated a healthy amount of discussion and debate. Public dialogue is always welcome — especially when something is new — and feedback on the bike lanes has helped us improve the design and respond to concerns.
Chapman implies that the bike lanes were installed without planning or collaboration. Public discussion began in 2010 for an enhanced bikeway connection between the University of Utah and downtown Salt Lake City, based on travel demand in this heavily used corridor and the desire to connect downtown and campus with more transportation options. A technical study of different routes, along with public outreach, stakeholder guidance and input through organizations such as the Downtown Alliance led the city to select 300 South as the preferred corridor. Extensive public outreach reflected that a majority of people preferred a design providing physical separation from cars.
Chapman claims that separated bike lanes should only be installed on high-speed automobile corridors. In reality, protected lanes have been successfully installed around the country in many different settings. As with all transportation improvements, there is no “one size fits all” approach. A rigorous design process produced the individualized solution for our situation.
Chapman claims that the 300 South bike lane is unsafe. Car doors can indeed be a problem on narrow bike lanes directly adjacent to parking, and our designers anticipated this on 300 South. The design includes a separate “door zone” that provides space for a door to open without interference; there have been no reported incidents of cyclists being “doored” on the protected bike lane. Crash rates have not risen as a result of the protected bike lane, even as ridership has increased significantly.
The specialty equipment to sweep and plow the protected bike lanes was $300,000, not $400,000, as Chapman erroneously claimed. This same equipment is also utilized on other bike lanes and to plow sidewalks. In addition, personnel deployed to clear the bike lanes perform other road maintenance in those areas.
Chapman also raised a seemingly fear-based concern about fire safety. A recent field review with the fire department confirmed that issues related to the reach of a ladder truck are due to the pre-existing center island parking areas, not bike lanes. In fact, the installation of the protected bike lane only changed the vehicle travel lane by two feet. Servicing a building of low to moderate height is not adversely affected. Salt Lake City has many tall buildings that do not rely on the ladder truck, and instead have sophisticated fire suppression systems. This is not an uncommon situation in any city.
Chapman also mischaracterizes costs. In addition to bike lanes, the project included pedestrian safety upgrades, center island reconfigurations and the addition of public art throughout the corridor.
Lastly, it’s worth noting that in a recent canvassing of the corridor, 59 percent of business owners on the corridor expressed support, 23 percent are neutral about the changes and 18 percent are unsupportive of the changes. Bicycle use on the corridor is up by 30 percent (80 percent on Twilight Concert nights), and state sales tax receipts show that business has increased along this corridor since the installation of the lanes. While we expect that opinions will continue to differ about the presence of this bike lane, we encourage the formation of opinions based on the facts presented.
Robin Hutcheson is the transportation director for Salt Lake City.