Stephen has consistently emphasized that pedestrian- and bike-oriented transportation is about more than the Millennials’ preference for life in the city rather than the suburbs.
It is also about social justice.
In the Bonneville Basin, for example, countless opportunities are more viable for those with cars than those without – in particular, open space experiences and employment opportunities. Taking a job in any of the two dozen cities and towns between Ogden and Provo, not to mention working or recreating in the Wasatch Mountains, are options only available to drivers.
These maps of bicycle infrastructure in Copenhagen (top) and Salt Lake City (bottom) show us what level of service currently exists in Utah’s capital city, and what is possible. Above, we see a closeup of both cities at the same scale. Copenhagen offers a pervasive, spider-webbed network of cycling infrastructure, where Salt Lake City offers a sparse, incomplete grid.
To the right, we see a zoomed out shot of the larger metropolitan regions, again at the same scale. We can see that every city in this part of Scandinavia has its own spiderweb of bike infrastructure. In the Bonneville Basin, on the other hand, we see one long bike corridor – perfect for the Iron Man triathlete looking to ride 160 miles round trip, but not much else.
What would a serious commitment to the justice of bicycle mobility, comparable to Copenhagen, mean for Salt Lake City?
First, it would mean cleaner air. Indeed, the transition away from car culture may be the single most important public health issue for Salt Lake. As a biking city, we would benefit not only from far more exercise, but from far less pollution as well.
Second, it would mean more linear parks, more connecting corridors, and more greenways within the city. Well-designed bike paths can integrate a sense of open space directly into the urban fabric.
Third, it would mean more local economy in the cycling industry – more innovation, more entrepreneurship, and more fun, goofy designs, like we see in this video.
Fourth, it would mean more equity. People unable to afford cars would have much better access to employment, recreation, and open space. This is the point Stephen raises again and again. It is easy for fortunate people to forget. The stakes rise when we remember.
Lastly, it would mean a calmer and more joyful atmosphere in Salt Lake City. Cars dehumanize, isolate, and endanger people. In contrast, biking and walking bring us into closer contact with the world and the people around us.
There are certainly obstacles to developing world class bike infrastructure in Salt Lake City. One challenge is population density, which can be a prerequisite for the shift away from driving. Copenhagen is over ten times more dense than Salt Lake City.
Another challenges is topography. Making a mountain town truly bike accessible could require major investments in complex infrastructure.
However, we should view this as an investment not for ourselves, but for the next century of inhabitants. Salt Lake City is growing faster than most parts of the country. If we plan now to grow into a pedestrian- and bike-oriented leader, we will. And, the environment, the economy, and the people of the region will all be better off if we do.