Walking and biking form ‘third pillar’ of transportation in Wasatch Front plan

By Chris McCahill

In its newly released 25-year Regional Transportation Plan, Utah’s Wasatch Front Regional Council—which controls more than half of available statewide transportation funds—makes active transportation one of its three major transportation pillars, in addition to highways and transit. The plan includes more than 1,600 miles of proposed bike lanes and improvements, including several hundred miles that coincide with planned road construction.

“Many people have ridden bicycles here for years for fun. We have some of the best recreational-biking opportunities in the world right in our backyard,” says Andrew Gruber, the group’s executive director. “But now, people are thinking of bicycling as a viable means of commuting to and from work, to school and even to the store or church.”

The plan presents two proposed bike networks: 1) a 615-mile priority network, determined through collaboration with the Utah DOT, the Utah Transit Authority, and other partner agencies, and 2) a larger base network that would meet all users’ basic needs, according to county plans. The estimated additional costs of building the necessary facilities range from $114 to $244 million. Other active transportation projects are regularly incorporated into planned construction projects.

Bicycle and pedestrian priorities were identified partly through a collaborative study of latent demand and accessibility needs. The latent demand model used for the study considered population and employment density, network connectivity, land use patterns, proximity to transit and key destinations, and demographic characteristics (Figure 1). The study also looked at whether transit stations were easily accessible by walking and biking using the existing network.

Figure 1: Latent bike demand in Weber and Davis Counties; Source: 2015-2040 RTP

Figure 1: Latent bike demand in Weber and Davis Counties; Source: 2015-2040 RTP

Highway and transit projects are currently selected based on needs and financial constraints. No process exists yet for prioritizing non-motorized projects because a constrained funding source has yet to be identified. However, as the manager of WFRC’s long range planning group notes, the bicycle network has a lot of room to grow compared to highways and transit, which are largely built out, and will therefore make up a large number of future projects.

Chris McCahill is a Senior Associate at SSTI.