Transportation officials have a name for all of us and our nasty little habit: We're SOVs.
We drive to work on the freeway, alone. We drive to the mall or the dry cleaner or the grocery store, alone. We're Single Occupancy Vehicles, and on any given day on the streets and highways of Salt Lake and Davis counties, we make about one million trips in our cars.Reducing the number of SOVs in the valley is one way to cut down on congestion and pollution. But that won't happen, say transportation gadflys, unless residents can sometimes be lured out of their cars into alternate ways of getting around.
Those alternatives - including bicycles, feet and public transportation - are the focus of this year's Urban Design Awards. The awards, sponsored by the Salt Lake City Arts Council and the Deseret News, are, as usual, people's choice awards (see ballot below).
This year's awards applaud efforts that promote any form of transportation other than the automobile. Those efforts might include amenities (bike paths, bike racks, pedestrian walkways, for example), programs (businesses that provide showers for bike commuters, perhaps) and virtual programs (telecommuting).
"It's a question of incentives and disincentives," says RogerBorgenicht about the ways in which people could be encouraged to leave their cars at home some of the time. Borgenicht is a member of the Urban Design Coalition and chairman of the Future Moves Coalition.
Right now, Borgenicht says, there are plenty of incentives to drive cars: more and cheaper parking spaces, lights timed for autos instead of pedestrians, the prospect of additional lanes on the freeway.
And, of course, the automakers come up with new incentives every year: bells and whistles and buzzwords like "double-wishbone suspension" and "concert-quality disc sound system."
"They make cars inviting, comfortable, reliable and safe," Borgenicht says. "We don't do any of that" for auto alternatives.
One city that did is Boulder, Colo., which in 1989 began a program aimed at reducing SOV trips 15 percent by 2005.
"We could foresee gridlock in 10 or 15 years," remembers Bob Whitson, director of the city-run Go Boulder program. So the city of 94,000 came up with an incentive and marketing plan to encourage alternative transit.
"The only way to compete with the SOV is to offer lots of options," Whitson says. Among the options in Boulder are special bike paths (including a 12-mile-long bike corridor that takes you from one end of the city to the other without ever having to cross a street), a directory listing all businesses that offer free delivery, bike racks on city buses and an advertising campaign encouraging people to leave the car at home at least one day a week.
The city even adopted a pro-bike policy of snow removal: the first things plowed when it snows are bike paths and bike routes.
Now six years into the campaign, the city has so far reduced SOVs by 5 percent, Whitson says.
Could a metro area as big and spread-out as the Salt Lake Valley lower its SOV rate too? Sure, Whitson says. "Any community that could be committed enough to attract the Olympics could change driving habits."
But don't expect it to just take a year or two, he says. Success requires "determination, a long-term commitment . . . community-wide support, political support and money over a long period of time."
Salt Lake Urban Design Coalition member Stephen Goldsmith envisions a Boulder, bolder approach to the Salt Lake Valley's growing transportation problems. There could be bike-pedestrian pathways connecting "Ninth and Ninth" and "15th and 15th," for example, or Red Butte Canyon to the East High School area. Or tax incentives for homeowners who deed 10 feet of their yards to bike paths, so a network of paths could be developed.
It is estimated that every day in the Salt Lake area we drive a total of 19 million miles. The prediction for 2015 is 30 million vehicle miles a day. Half of the total trips we make are driven by people alone in their cars; 80 percent of our trips are to work.
"We're perilously close to our infrastructure falling apart," Goldsmith says. "It's time to anticipate the changes we need to make." We do need our cars, he adds, "but we want to be able to get through our communities in other ways, too."
This year's Urban Design Awards applaud public and private efforts to encourage Salt Lakers to use alternative modes of transportation, including their feet, bicycles, public transit and virtual transit. In voting for the categories listed below, please confine your answers to Salt Lake City boundaries.
1. My favorite place to walk is ________________________________________
2. My favorite in-town bike route is ____________________________________
3. My choice for a business or government agency that encourages its employees, customers and clients to use alternative transit is
4. My choice for best incentive used by an alternative mode of transit to encourage people to leave their cars at home is ___________________________
5. My choice for friendliest virtual trip (employers that encourage telecommuting) is __________________________________________________________
6. My best idea for the future is _______________________________________
Mail ballots to:
Urban Design Awards
Salt Lake City Arts Council
54 Finch Lane
Salt Lake City, UT 84102