Utah focuses on eco-friendly transportation

GREENbike share station outside of Harmons in Salt Lake City
GREENbike share station outside of Harmons in Salt Lake City

Utah is making a more committed effort to create efficient urban transportation through a variety of different options. Walking and biking have long been used as modes of transportation throughout Provo with the large population of students attending BYU and Utah Valley University. In more urban areas such as Salt Lake City, though, heavy traffic and other factors contribute to horrible smog and haze throughout much of the city.

There have been many different efforts to create more eco-friendly transportation in these areas for people commuting to school, work or just going to enjoy Salt Lake City. The Utah Transit Authority has provided many options for urban travel such as the bus, the TRAX, which now runs from Provo to SLC, and the FrontRunner, which can be taken from Provo all of the way up to Ogden. Unlike the FrontRunner, TRAX is powered by overhead electrical wires. Many people utilize these public transportation options daily to travel to different locations.

Biking is playing an increasingly large role in the Utah transportation system. The Chinese zodiac and lunar calendar call 2013 the “Year of the Snake,” but Salt Lake City mayor Ralph Becker has pinned it as the “Year of the Bike” in his State of the City address in January. His ultimate goal is to make cycling part of the fabric of the city, being seen as a source of both transportation and recreation.

Local GREENbike user brings his groceries home on his bike.
A local GREENbike user brings groceries home.

“We have made incredible strides, but we still have room to grow,” Becker said.

An “Open Streets” event was held in downtown Salt Lake City near UTA’s transit hub in May, during which 1.5 miles of road were closed to vehicles. The streets were open exclusively to walkers, bikers and joggers, and many other family-friendly activities took place. The event was just one of many things the city has done to promote good air quality and physical activity.

Many other events have been announced and continue to be planned for the remainder of the “Year of the Bike.” A number of paved bike trails have recently been opened to the public as well.

A large installment of the “Year of the Bike” is the bike-share program being used throughout downtown Salt Lake City. The program,  known as “GREENbike,” was started in April and allows anyone to rent a bike for an allotted amount of time and ride it wherever they want. GREENbike is a spin-off of similar programs throughout Europe and has been a huge hit in Salt Lake City.

“With 10 stations and 100 bikes, we’re already on pace to surpass Madison, Wisc., which has 30 stations and double the number of bikes,” said Colin Quinn-Hurst, a Salt Lake City transportation planner. “We’re also on pace to surpass Boulder, Colo. We’re not competitive, but we’re feeling pretty good about it.”

The GREENbike program is designed for people making short trips around the city wearing normal clothes and doing normal activities. There is a large basket on the front of every bike, making it convenient and easy to carry purses, laptops, briefcases and other items used on a daily basis.

Not only is this program designed to provide easy and convenient transportation, but it also eliminates unnecessary short car trips. According to City Hall spokesman Art Raymond, GREENbike expects to eliminate 77,000 miles of auto driving and 20,000 cold-car starts, ultimately cutting down on air pollution.

GREENbike organizers are saying the best part of the program is its availability. Users can just pick up a bike from any of the locations and then return it to another station without worrying about how to lock it up or where to store it.

“It gets people from the station or the bus stop to their final destination, usually way quicker than if you took the bus the rest of the way,” Quinn-Hurst said. “People come from Intermodal Hub to the city and county buildings on a bike, and they save time and have a lot of fun doing it.”

Planners say they are confident about doubling the program within the next year or so due to the fact that it has already blown away all expectations.

“So far it’s been fantastic,” said Don Claus, a bike-share repairman. “I really enjoy meeting folks who are riding the bikes. Some people are riding a bike for the first time in years, so it’s a lot of fun. I hope it grows.”

The bikes are a part of the extensive transit network found in Salt Lake City, which continues to grow every year.

With Mayor Becker naming 2013 the “Year of the Bike,” it gives people one more reason to get outside, walk, run, jog, bike and, perhaps most importantly, enjoy the Utah sunshine.

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