10 November 2008

UTA is Encouraging Sprawl

Despite their best intentions, the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) is encouraging sprawl with the bus system they have in place. The culprit: Express and Fast buses. The past several months I have been using the Express Bus to get to and from Lehi each day. While I was the beneficiary of a fast bus with no stops and a relatively short commute for living so far away, I came to the realization that this approach to public transit is not in the best interest of the people of Utah.

UTA currently has twenty nine Express/Fast bus routes that come from the outer ring suburbs to the center while skipping the first and second ring suburbs. As a result, many transit commutes are shorter from the outer suburbs than from the inner suburbs. The current system says to me “UTA would rather have you live in Lehi than Sugarhouse.”

One solution is the approach Portland, Oregon uses which places Transit Centers at various locations of the inner suburbs. This allows people in the outer rings to catch a bus that takes them to the inner ring Transit Center. From there they transfer to a line that goes to the center, or downtown. This allows everyone to use transit but gives the penalty in time and transfers to those further out. It also gives more flexibility allowing people to get around at times other than commute times. Thirty nine of UTA’s bus routes currently only run during commute hours. This becomes very problematic when emergencies arise or people need to travel home at non-commute times.

1402 Blair St by Liberty Park – 23 minutes – 1 transfer – 2.69 miles
2378 Blaine Ave in SugarHouse – 47 minutes – 1 transfer – 5.84 miles
3846 Knudsen St in East Millcreek – 48 minutes – 1 transfer – 11.2 miles
3492 Sunnybrook Dr in West Valley – 44 minutes – 1 transfer – 11.31 miles
3528 Mystic Way in Magna – 51 minutes – 1 transfer – 15.08 miles
452 Stephanie Circle in Sandy – 57 minutes – 1 transfer – 15.81 miles
1186 N 500 W Lehi – 50 minutes – 0 transfers – 28.41 miles
378 N 100 E in Tooele – 1 hour 12 minutes – 0 transfers – 33.36 miles

For my unscientific study above, all addresses were chosen at random in various cities that UTA serves and had the same destination of 50 E North Temple. All used the same departure time of a weekday at 7:00am. The only randomly-chosen addresses that were excluded were those that UTA’s Trip Planner could not compute (more than 1/4 mile walking or more than 3 hours travel. Side note: it would be nice to have the option of increasing the walking portion of the Trip Planner to 1/2 mile.)

As you can see, a commute from SugarHouse is an equivalent time to a commute from Lehi or Magna. And since Lehi, Magna, and Tooele have no transfers, the commute is more desirable than Sugarhouse or East Millcreek since there are no transfers (who wants to get out in the snow multiple times?)

While this is only a small sampling, it shows that there are many locations that UTA serves where it is easier and faster to use public transit from living farther out rather than closer in. Is this really the message UTA wants to send? I don’t know about other people, but I used the UTA Trip Planner site more than any other site to aid in choosing which home to buy here in Utah. The Express/Fast bus system is telling people that you may have a shorter commute if you move out further. In spite of this critique, great improvements are being made with additional rail lines and transit options by UTA. With these upcoming changes, I just hope they will reconsider the current bus system and move towards a Transit Center approach.


John Kendall said...

You, Sir, have way too much time on your hands.


p.s. I miss you!

Tod Robbins said...

The model you propose does sound more solid than what we have. Too bad the FrontRunner South line is going to take a long while, I'll be in the Northwest by the time it opens for public use in 2012 (that's the estimate).

green mormon architect said...

That's what living in a hotel with all your stuff in storage will give you...lots and lots of time. Only one more week until the house closes...

good luck in the NW - I miss it already and it's only been a few months.

Reuben said...

I expect that some of UTA's express lines are also the most profitable lines they run.

I think we should consider alternate destinations before we draw any conclusions, though. How would the results differ if we didn't assume everyone was trying to get to 50 N. Temple? I expect if people in Lehi are trying to get anywhere other than dead center of downtown, the results would be different.

I vote that for tomorrow's post, you use the same origins, but choose several other destinations in salt lake as well.

Anonymous said...

I agree UTA promotes sprawl but they are just trying to get as many people on the bus as possible. The other day the idea of having free fare zones in neighborhood business districts was proposed to UTA and they shot it down without much thought. I think that idea would definitely get more people on the bus if it was free to go just to the store, church, or library. It's not so much UTA's problem as it is a problem with the metality of a large portion of Utahns.

Salt Lake Urban Planner said...

It is not UTA's role to either promote sprawl or try to stop it. They are only trying to create a mass transit alternative to the sprawl that has already been created. Its hard to tell from your blog as to where from Lehi you are commuting. However, if you are living in Lehi and not working in Lehi or one of its surrounding communities than you actually are the one promoting sprawl and not UTA.