Image by Steven Vance via Flickr
One of the problems we face here in Utah is the lack of regional planning. While we do have the Wasatch Front Regional Council and MAG, they concentrate primarily on highways and the cities still do their own planning. Of course the likely hood of having an effect regional planning organization in Utah is nil considering the political bent of many in the region.
However, I decided to do a what if scenerio. What if we could take a bus route, look at all aspects of that bus route including land use and direct land use and transit planning to improve the route and the neighborhoods it travels through.
Here is the criteria I used to decide which route to focus on:
1. Had to be a frequent service route to provide enough service to be attractive to choice riders.
2. To create better dynamics, the route had to connect with as many other frequent service routes as possible (which eliminated routes such as 35 MAX/35).
3. The route had to have either vacant land or an area in decline in order to optimize the redevelopment opportunities to create transit friendly development.
I decided to focus on the 209 for these reasons:
1. Yes it is a frequent service line
2. The route not only has a large number of connects in downtown but it also connects with many frequent service lines along its route including TRAX, 21, 33, 39 and 45.
3. The area between 2100 South and 4500 south has areas that are in decline and and have opportunities for redevelopment into more pedestrian, transit, and bike friendly neighborhoods.
So lets start off with the basics and look at the route itself.
The route travels from downtown to the Fashion Place West TRAX station via South Temple, 900 East and Winchester.
As I have mentioned many times before, it makes more since to improve bus routes such as the 209 than to do Badly Repackaged Transit which is not just like rail except cheaper which it is not.
Signal Prioritization would be a good step to improve performance but like planning with each jurisdiction having control over their traffic lights, it makes doing it difficult. While the MTA in Los Angeles has been successful with signal prioritization in the city of LA, there is many small cities that Metro Rapid lines pass through that have not implemented them slowing the routes done.
Next up would be to consolidate bus stops that are located too close together and design the remaining bus stops to take advantage of low floor buses by making the curbs equal to the stop on the buses. This along with doing away with the fare free zone allowing buses to board from the front door in both directions will allow the bus to make the trip faster.
A longer term goal would be to change the south end of the line. Instead of traveling on Winchester, the buses should continue south along 900 East. The current portion along Winchester should be replaced by an extension of route 62 from the Fashion Place West TRAX station to the Cottonwood Corporate center and on to the park n' ride lot on Wasatch. This would be a long range goal that is not going happen in the near term.
The 209 should be split into two routes the 208 and the 209 with the 208 traveling 900 East/700 East to 8000 South to State Street to 7720 South and over to the Midvale Center TRAX station. The 209 would turn southeast along South Union and Creek Road like the old 44 then continue on to 3500 South and Bengal Blvd. The only issue would be the snobby NIMBY's along the eastern side of Creek Road would probably oppose having a bus in their neighborhood. Of course these ideas are years away as we have to build ridership on the existing system to make them economically feasible.
The last bus related improvement along the route would be to add bus stop shelters at major stops along the route. However, they need to be designed to fit into the neighborhood and not be the standard ugly glass and metal shelters many transit systems use.
The next step would be redevelopment of several areas along the route that will increase density in important spots which will also increase ridership not only for the 209 but the other frequent service lines that cross the 209.
First up is the intersection of 400 South and 900 East where the University Line TRAX station is located. All four corners of this intersection could be redeveloped with community stores and housing above. The housing could be tailored to the older students at the U or to downtown workers.
Next up would be the Sugarhouse area. Right now the corners at 2100 South are dominated by auto designed stores especially the new Kroger store on the southeast corner (yes I know it says Smith's, but Smith's largely exists in name only it is a Kroger store). There is plenty of possibilities to create a pedestrian, and bike friendly corridor from 2100 South down to I-80 where the new recreational trail will go through. This should be part of the Sugarhouse plan that includes the streetcar connections once it is built.
The intersections of 3300 South, 3900 South and 4500 South are also ripe for redevelopment that should include transit, pedestrian and bike friendly uses that include apartments, homes, and neighborhood retail. The neighborhoods between the intersections would largely remain untouched and still have better bus service.
The biggest obstacle in this part of the corridor would be the Kroger store at 4500 South and 900 East since Kroger has shown to be very anti-pedestrian friendly. They want to the store this way or the highway and are willing to blackmail with the threat of leaving the area to get their way. To top it all off, the center is owned by the Boyer Group which has not shown any friendliness to transit friendly designs.
By making improvements to the bus route and redeveloping under performing real estate you will not only create a better bus line, you will improving the community and building a better base for ridership on UTA lines. You will also create more vibrant community that will be a discouragement to the gangs that seem to be taking over that section of the community.