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Bike Utah's Largest Annual Summit Discusses Infrastructure and Economic Development in Rural Areas

Photo of Phil Sarnoff.
Courtesy Bike Utah
Phil Sarnoff, Executive Director of Bike Utah.

The nonprofit Bike Utah recently held its annual Bike Summit, with its largest-ever audience. Morning Edition Host Diane Maggipinto spoke with Bike Utah Executive Director Phil Sarnoff on the state of cycling in Utah, and the perennial priority — and obstacle — to building a biking future.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Dianne Maggipinto: What were some of the main takeaways from this year’s summit?

Phil Sarnoff: Infrastructure is always the biggest challenge for anybody who wants to get out and ride. Do they have a safe, comfortable, and interconnected place to ride. But beyond that there is also interest in the broader implications of bicycling. How is it a force for economic development? It obviously helps with air quality, it helps with public health. We're trying to create infrastructure and education for everybody, from eight years old to eighty years old.

Diane Maggipinto: Let's talk about bicycling infrastructure. What does that mean?

PS: When we talk about bicycle infrastructure, we're talking about bike lanes, paths and trails. There's been a shift in the bicycle advocacy world over the last five or 10 years towards creating infrastructure that meets the needs for all types of users.

DM: So it seems at first blush that we do have that in Salt Lake City. How do we develop infrastructure in rural areas?

PS: In more rural communities the demand is often just as high and often they're in a better situation because they're not built out. They don't have as much development so they can look at the roadway or the adjacent land for building a multi use pathway. But really, it's the same trajectory. If they want to build and if they want people riding they need to make sure that the infrastructure is there.

DM: When you speak to any projects that are happening in a rural part of the state?

PS: We're working with Daggett County on a multi use pathway. They've had this desire for a multi use pathway along on of their highways for almost two decades. We have a staff member who went in and basically said, "how can I help you to get this project rolling?" Within just a couple of phone calls and emails, the project is starting to move.

DM: What about money, particularly in rural areas?

PS:There actually is quite a bit of funding that's available for bicycle infrastructure. The Utah Department of Transportation sees the challenges that a lot of communities are facing, both urban and rural, in terms of getting people around and making communities livable. The challenge is not really the funding, it's oftentimes the expertise. That's a lot of what we do at Bike Utah. How can we help people get from the demand that they have or the desire that they have for that infrastructure and connecting them to that funding.

DM:What is in the immediate future for Bike Utah? What are your main priorities?

PS:When it comes down to it the infrastructure is the key piece to this whole thing. For people who are living here in Utah, it's helpful for businesses that are trying to recruit and retain employees. You look at a lot of the tech sector here and a lot of them have bicycle clubs and bicycle teams. So it makes it provides a competitive advantage in an development opportunity from a tourism side from my quality of life for residents as well.

Claire used to work as an outdoor education teacher — living in the middle of the woods for six months of the year and then filling in the rest with odd jobs. When she first moved to Utah in 2016 for a winter season, it was the first place she could envision staying for more than 6 months. Podcasts and radio filled in the hours moving in between states. In fact, Claire loved working seasonally and podcasts so much, that she began making her own podcast about seasonal life. She then decided to apply for an internship with RadioWest. When she stepped into the station, it was the second time she could see herself in Utah for more than 6 months. Now Claire works as a production assistant and a weekend host. She’s excited to stay for a while.
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