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Politics & Government

Public transit advocates call on Salt Lake City to build better bus lanes

200 South Salt Lake City design proposal
Salt Lake City Transportation Division
Design proposal for 200 South in downtown Salt Lake City.

During the last two years, Salt Lake City has been working on remodeling one of it’s busiest downtown east-west corridors — 200 South.

The reconstruction aims to transform the area into a “transit priority street” that has better pedestrian walkways, transit mobility, and landscapes. In 2020, the city asked the community for feedback on the project.

Initially, the city proposed three concept plans, two of which include a strong emphasis on public transportation mobility on the street. The city’s current design proposal includes creating Business Access and Transit lanes, or BAT lanes, that are meant to help buses and right-turning vehicles move more freely.

Shelby Stults is a board member of Sweet Streets, a transit-friendly advocacy group. They have been working to raise awareness on the project and pressure city officials into prioritizing bus-only lanes without barriers.

She said the city has shown its commitment to cleaning Salt Lake City’s air, with initiatives such as Free Fare February and by expanding the city’s transit system but there are still hurdles that prevent people from taking the bus.

“Oftentimes in cities that don't have designated infrastructure specifically for public transit, the amount of time that it would take for you to take the bus can often be doubled or tripled during peak traffic hours,” she said, “[That’s] just due to the bus needing to navigate merging [in] and outside of traffic as it's making its way along the route.”

Stults said they want to have exclusive bus lanes and more signage. She said that would make public transportation easier and more effective for people. She pointed to other Utah cities that have already implemented these kinds of changes, like Provo.

Her organization held a demonstration rally Friday evening where they walked to city hall and presented Mayor Erin Mendenhall’s office with a petition calling on her office to make these changes.

“We feel that there's additional tweaks that could be made to this final design that wouldn't be out of the realm of fiscal cost or lag time into moving into the construction phase,” Stults said. “[We could do this] by incorporating things, for example, if the [bus] lane were painted red section by section as they're going through the repavement.”

She said this would help drivers who are unfamiliar with these new designs stay out of the bus lanes.

Jon Larsen, Salt Lake City’s transportation director, said they have taken these changes into consideration. He said some of the requests, like painting the road, are something that they’d like to do but would have to look at funding.

“We care deeply about creating more human-centered designs and streets and more sustainable, equitable transportation, and we believe that this corridor in the design is a huge step in the right direction,” Larsen said.

Construction is set to begin on the east end of the project at 900 East this summer.

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