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Lessons from Salt Lake City

A little video from the US showing that even in what is considered the most conservative state in the US, when you present a real vision for Public Transport that people will vote for it and even agree to higher taxes to enable it to happen sooner (not that we are suggesting that with the Congestion Free Network).

Here is a bit more background to what is happening in Salt Lake City.

It’s number one in the nation in per-capita transit spending. The only city in the country building light rail, bus rapid transit, streetcars and commuter rail at the same time. And that city — Salt Lake City — is a town of just over 180,000 in a remote setting in a red state.

It’s a remarkable story that began in the 1990s, when an organization called Envision Utah facilitated a regional visioning process and created a plan that has been recognized as one of the most promising smart growth models in the nation.

There’s a lesson here for other cities. In 1997, leaders in a 10-county region centered on Salt Lake County set out to see what people valued about where they lived. They designed a plan around those values, with a communications campaign to support it. At that time, the state was expected to grow by a million people by 2020. Rather than cede that growth to meandering sprawl, the region chose something more orderly and compact.

“At that point, to many Utahns, ‘smart growth’ was not a popular word,” said Robert Grow, Envision Utah’s president and CEO. “We made people some promises. We’d save a lot of time, money, lower emissions, improve air quality, develop more housing choices, and build a transportation system with greater efficiency.”

I really like this line

“How is it that the most conservative state… how is it they’re one of the most progressive in the country on transit?” said Allsop. “It’s because the case was made in a way that fit with people’s values.”

There are perhaps some lessons both Auckland Transport and Auckland council could learn from the experience in Salt Lake City.

21 comments to Lessons from Salt Lake City

  • Craig Neilson

    The USA actually builds some damn fine infrastructure. It’s cool to see this not just done but done to a high standard.

  • Bryce P

    I like how they questioned “what people valued about where they lived” as opposed to building heights or density. I bet if you presented an image of a tree lined street in a dense neighbourhood, with nice architecture and mixed use buildings, to a group of people, 99% would say “yes please”.

    • tuktuk

      ‘I bet if you presented an image of a tree lined street in a dense neighbourhood, with nice architecture and mixed use buildings, to a group of people, 99% would say “yes please”.’
      Well spoken Bryce P.
      That is precisely what has been missing from Auckland’s debate on the Unitary Plan. Everything else, including PT decisions must follow a clear vision that the populace can relate to.

      • SteveC

        agreed, we lack good examples of the type of development Auckland needs, something that can be shown on Campbell Live to underscore the message that “this can be a great place to live”

        the other point that went past pretty fast was that like much of the US, transit is funded from a retail tax and that the locals can set the rate, so there’s a pretty good revenue stream to enable planning and construction

  • Frank One

    Why does New Zealand take such an ideological view when it comes to public transport and cycle ways? Many of the USA public tansport schemes still seem to be run by the relevant transit authority, rather than a private profit motive operator, which is interesting. Think UTA’s TRAX has limited advertising also.
    The Perth light rail scheme and the floating cycle way proposals in London are recent examples of political colour not blinding transport solutions. Auckland is so backward it is quite depressing.

  • Daighi

    I was in Salt Lake for a week at the end of last year and I can’t help but feel that this video is a little misleading (based on my own experience). Downtown Salt Lake felt like one of the most car dominated places I’ve ever been to. Check out this car park taking up an entire city block and surrounded on all sides by unnecessarily wide roads: http://goo.gl/maps/UtWMj

    The whole downtown area was woeful to navigate by foot, every hundred meters I’d have to stop and wait for what felt like an age to get my chance to dash across the ‘pseudo-highways’ that dissect the city. The place felt rather dull and lifeless to me and I’d be willing to bet that the extreme priorities afforded to motorists contribute to that.

    That said, it is reassuring that such an auto focussed, conservative city is beginning to invest in public transport.

    • BBC

      You sure your plane didn’t re-route and drop you off in Auckland? Nothing you’ve said above couldn’t apply equally well to Auckland and as such the SLC exprience is quite relevant.

  • Gian

    wow that google maps shot seams like straight out of Sim City!

  • George D

    “We didn’t want to look like LA”

    I think that’s the takeaway from this. It worked in an emotionally conservative place because it appealed to people’s sense of preservation of and building on an existing aesthetic, rather than promising a new one. Messaging that appeals to this part of the brain – the sense of fear people have of the unknown – is incredibly powerful. Most of the time it’s used against transit, so it’s interesting to see it presented to a public in this way. Of course, an Olympic Bid certainly helped.

    And 43 million boardings, in a city 1/8th the size of Auckland! That would be equivalent to 340 million boardings in Auckland, a truly incredible figure.

  • Bryce P

    Take that image that is there before the video plays and imagine that as Queen St. Oh, the possibilities.

  • As an aside……I recently spent 10 weeks in Ontario, Canada. While there, I looked at property taxes. I was surprised to find that home owners in Ontario pay 300% more than homeowners in Auckland. This propprtion was pretty consistent whether in a tiny town like Little Current on Manitoulin Island, or in London, Toronto or Ottawa….or in a mid-sized town like Sarnia.

    300% more.

    For example, the rates on my $480,000 RV home in Auckland are about $1800. My sister in Ottawa pays $3500 for a home with $230,000. That’s almost 4 times what I pay in Auckland.

    It looks like this meme about “high rates” is rubbish. We pay low rates.

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