Lessons from Salt Lake City

6 05 2013

Update – I’ve found this Streetfilms film about Salt Lake City transit and cycling featuring the bike share.

I had reason to visit Salt Lake City, Utah and the city has a west coast kind of Denver like vibe to it, and is a wholly more likeable place than, say, Las Vegas, Nevada. And whilst Las Vegas is not the kind of place you’d want to ride a bicycle, the centre of Salt Lake City is.

Salt Lake City (14)

They’ve just installed a small network of hire bike stations, called Greenbike. There are only 9 stations so it geographically pretty limited. It does however have a station for commuters arriving on the Frontrunner train which connects cities from Ogden in the north to Provo in the South, as well as stations for the various Trax light rail lines that serve Salt Lake suburbs and closer in cities.

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As a tourist it was pretty easy to hire bikes for $5 for the day giving an unlimited number of 30 minute rides.

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There are 3 gears and it was easy enough to ride up the hill towards Temple Square. It was a sturdy, safe ride on the step through frame bike. No helmets are necessary (they’re not compulsory even for motorbike riders in Utah). There’s 2 lessons here for Wellington: hire bike schemes complement the public transport network, especially when the train station is just that little bit outside of the centre of town, and compulsory helmets are a stupid law that treats adult cyclists like little children. I didn’t know Salt Lake had hire bikes until I got there, so on a whim I hired one. Try doing that in Brisbane or Melbourne without the required plastic lid.

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And it was a nice quiet Sunday for riding around. There are bike lanes on a few streets, and on some streets there are sharrows and signs telling cyclists to take the whole lane:

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There are routes marked around the city by signs:

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and signs to remind cars to be courteous:

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The Trax is a system of modern light rail and bikes can be taken on them. Service seemed pretty frequent especially for a Sunday:

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And good manners are enforced (a lesson for Wellington train stations if there ever was one):

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There’s also a lot of bike racks dotted around the city:

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And a healthy contingent of bike riders were out riding the day I visited. This guy was having a break from riding his fixie. He told me he was waiting for a friend of his that was due through on a ride from northern Idaho to southern Texas to protest the Boy Scouts of America’s ongoing homophobic policies.

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And last, but not least, and perhaps not a lesson for Wellington, is the red flag scheme. Pedestrians on zebra crossings can take a red flag on one side of the road, wave it on the way across, and leave it on the other side.

I did see one lady use it, and it was most effective. It definitely made her visible to every other road user. I didn’t hear her singing the Internationale on the way across, but it is obviously a communist plot to get good decent Americans to wave the red flag.

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All up Salt Lake City is a pleasant city where all of the American West Coast bike ideas come together. Slow down the cars, give some riding space to cyclists, either in dedicated lanes outside of door zones, or by using sharrows. Map some coherent routes, have a hire bike scheme, integrate it with public transport, abandon discriminatory helmet policy (yes, the law is discriminatory – they discriminate against cyclists and are a sop to, and a reflection of, the political power of motorists), tell the cyclists to take the whole lane where appropriate, make the weather pleasant, throw in some snow covered mountains, and “This is the Place”.