This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Salt Lake City's transportation bosses wore poker faces, partly for self-defense.
They had to know scrapping central city traffic lanes in favor of a landscaped park strip built for bicycles would elicit impassioned responses. And the crowd roaming last week's "bicycle greenway" open house didn't disappoint.
"Bad for traffic and business," read one reaction, scrawled across an oversized diagram of Mayor Ralph Becker's greenway, proposed for 200 South between downtown and nearly 1200 East.
Most of the messages were stamped with exclamation marks. "You'll kill the small guys!" "Don't touch the trees!" "Pedestrians already have two sidewalks." "Bad idea!" "Amen!" Then, written a little smaller, "Love it!"
Since the greenway idea was unveiled last month on the city's website, reactions from neighbors, University of Utah students and 200 South business owners have been mixed. Leisure riders sound ecstatic. But road warriors and daily bike commuters have concerns about safety and added congestion.
Opposition from residents already has prompted the city to reconsider running a concrete bike path between the trees on the existing islands between 900 East and 1100 East.
"I kind of like these," said Graham Murphy, pointing to the century-old, grass-filled medians fronting his 200 South home near 1050 East. "I'd kind of like to keep these."
Any changes to the eastern patch of medians which sit in the University Historic District would have to clear the city's Historic Landmark Commission.
To minimize any median harm, traffic engineers now suggest a "permeable" path could bisect the trees. Another scenario keeps the bike lanes on the street but moves them toward the center, hugging the beloved islands. That way, some cyclists say, you would not get "doored" by a driver getting out of a parked car.
"I'm definitely attracted to the idea of moving the bike lanes to the side of the medians," neighbor Hande Togrul said. "But I love the medians and the trees. I'd never want the medians to go away."
Out of 312 residents polled by the Eastside Community Council, 83 percent support the greenway, according to Esther Hunter, council co-chairwoman. But 98 percent of those same neighbors oppose a bike path in the center of the existing islands.
"The [tree] roots are very close to the surface," Hunter explained at the open house. "People are worried about the hardscape [concrete] or skateboards flying through here."
Phase 1, possible this fall, would affect only the stretch between 200 East and 900 East. New bike and pedestrian lanes, simulating a center-street median, would be painted if the City Council approves the funding. One lane of vehicle traffic would remain in each direction. Actual medians, and some kind of path between 900 East and nearly 1200 East, would be considered depending on the Phase 1 success.
"Great cities that are revered because of their bike structure started with case studies," said Mark Puddy, who rides 200 South daily from his place on South Temple and 1200 East. "New York, Portland, Minneapolis all those places have done it. We're looked at as 'Why wouldn't we?' because of our wide streets."
The corridor was selected because it connects the U. with downtown and beyond. It also serves as a primary bus route, and city planners have slotted 200 South as a future streetcar route.
"It's too much to cram into one street," said neighbor Melanie Meriwether, who worries about access for emergency vehicles and added she would move if a streetcar comes. "There are safety issues that nobody's really addressed."
City Councilman Luke Garrott says he appreciates Becker's vision but takes issue with the "fait accompli" tone. "If I were to explain some of the pushback," he said, "it's because this was presented as a done deal."
Becker stresses the greenway concept is just that. And project manager Kurt Larson notes the whole reason for the open house (and an online forum) is to gather a mix of feedback to mold the idea. That is especially true for the existing medians, where sensitivities run as deep as the tree roots. "Some folks were thinking this was written in stone," Larson said. "It really wasn't. For this thing to get legs, there has to be money."
The first phase alone is estimated at $500,000. The city, which still is slashing most of its budgets, won't even speculate on a price tag for new medians.
More fodder, avid bikers say, to leave the street alone.
"As a commuter cyclist, bike lanes in the median pose a serious threat," an open-house visitor wrote on the comment board. "It's far more dangerous to be unseen in the median than seen on the street."
Where would the greenway be?
Salt Lake City is considering a 200 South overhaul that would include landscaped medians with a bike and pedestrian path between 200 East and 900 East. From there, the path would continue, in some form, east across or around the existing medians to nearly 1200 East. Proposal highlights:
Cutting out one traffic lane in each direction.
Upgrading intersection signals to detect cyclist motion.
Removing existing bike lanes; adding midblock crossings.
Allowing food vendors, picnics, yoga classes and more in the medians.
Altering the street in two phases, first with new bike and pedestrian lanes to be painted in the middle, possibly this fall.