What would you do if you could reconfigure or revamp downtown Salt Lake City with improved transportation and mobility as your primary objectives?
That's what dozens of business leaders and downtown property owners were asked this past week at a kick-off meeting for the city's Downtown Transportation Study, a yearlong effort aimed at determining what enhancements and changes will make all types of transportation operate more efficiently in the city's core.
The study could result in "positive and dramatic changes in our downtown transportation system," said Bob Farrington, executive director of the Downtown Alliance. "We believe . . . this is the beginning of something very exciting and important in our city."
The study, while sponsored by the city, will be a collaborative effort involving the alliance and the rest of the Salt Lake business community, the Utah Transit Authority and the Utah Department of Transportation.
The study will attempt to consider every possible issue in six broad categories — rail, bus, parking, streets, land use and information technology. It will tackle the big discussions, like whether a TRAX light rail loop should be built downtown, and the seemingly more obscure, like whether parking garage vacancy signs could be installed on major downtown streets.
"UTA views this plan as being part transit planning and part transit-oriented development planning," said Alice Steiner, a former city employee who now works as a UTA consultant.
Some issues raised by the business community and public may be "more day-to-day management issues," she said, but those will be forwarded to the appropriate party for attention.
With so many issues "bubbling to the surface," said D.J. Baxter, a senior adviser to Mayor Rocky Anderson, the study is a good way "to get our arms around all of these things at once. . . . All of these things have a big impact on land use."
It's worth extended study, he said, particularly since other cities have enjoyed success by studying and them implementing major downtown transportation improvements.
For example, in Portland, Ore., Baxter said, a recently completed 2.5-mile street car line cost $55 million to construct but has directly led to billions of dollars' worth of private sector investments — primarily the development of housing units along the street car line.
With The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints preparing to invest significant funds in the redevelopment of the ZCMI and Crossroads malls, the time is right for such an extensive study of downtown transportation patterns and infrastructure, said Zions Securities executive Kent Gibson.
"With all the construction and development on the horizon, it's only going to become a more dynamic city," Gibson predicted.
Here are some of the issues the study will examine:The need for a "downtown circulator," such as a shuttle bus or street car loop, or extension of the TRAX light rail line to form a downtown loop.
The possibility of a downtown transit center, or "bus mall," which could include bus-only street access and provide a central connection location for all UTA bus routes.
The possible extension, continuation or elimination of UTA's downtown "free fare" zone.
The idea of allowing advertising on downtown bus shelters, perhaps resulting in many new bus shelters that would be paid for by the private sector.
An examination of current city parking policies, including whether free parking should be expanded, continued as is or altered in some way. Either increasing or decreasing the cost of parking meters — or doing away with them altogether — also will be looked at.
A reorganization of UTA's downtown bus routes, which the transit agency already is examining on its own.