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SALT LAKE CITY — The federal government came through this week with nearly $3 million for a visionary wireless electric bus system at the University of Utah. Now that the school has the money, all it needs is a plan to make the system work safely.
Today, about half the proposed route is a sidewalk, with pedestrians, bicyclists and skateboarders. Planners have to redesign it so a full-size city bus can get through safely, every few minutes.
"I think the shuttle route will be safe. It won't go in unless we're certain it isn't a safety hazard," said Alma Allred, director of commuter services at the University of Utah.
"I think our big problems are people walking around with earphones in their ears and reading, rather than watching where they're going. And we'll have to address that." Alan Allred, UofU commuter services
The federal government is funneling $2.7 million to help solve an old problem: existing transit routes circle around the campus.
"The campus was designed as a pedestrian campus, but it's 1,400 acres. In order to get people to leave their cars at home they have to have a way to get around once they're here," Allred said.
The plan is to use an electric bus that won't have to be plugged in. Every time it arrives at the TRAX station, it will recharge by stopping over a buried magnetic plate. Then it will carry students and staff into the center of campus.
"I think it would be a lot faster and helpful getting to class; so it definitely would be a great idea," said Hannah Stewart, a student at the U.
Allred says the bus lane likely won't have curbs, but it will be a roadway. "(It's) designed as such; and there will be crossing areas, and they're not going to go freeway speeds," he explained.
The lane may be paved with rough cobblestones to discourage bicyclists. It may have pedestrian barriers.
"I think our big problems are people walking around with earphones in their ears and reading, rather than watching where they're going. And we'll have to address that," Allred said.
"People would just have to be more knowledgeable of where they're walking, paying more attention," Stewart said. They university does have time to figure out the details. The federal money came through this week, but the earliest the bus could get into operation is in the fall of 2012.