Does Utah need more bike lanes and multiuse paths?

Debbie St. James and Mike St. James bike on a bike path along the Pineview Reservoir near Huntsville, Weber County, on Wednesday, May 15, 2019. Utah Department of Transportation officials on Wednesday opened up public comment to better understand the demand of bike lanes and multiuse paths in the state.

Debbie St. James and Mike St. James bike on a bike path along the Pineview Reservoir near Huntsville, Weber County, on Wednesday, May 15, 2019. Utah Department of Transportation officials on Wednesday opened up public comment to better understand the demand of bike lanes and multiuse paths in the state. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)



SALT LAKE CITY — As Utah transportation officials plan out the future of travel throughout the state, they want to know how important nonmotorized vehicle paths and bike lanes should be as they craft future projects.

The Utah Department of Transportation on Wednesday officially launched a public comment phase aimed at better understanding the demand for bike lanes, trails, multiuse paths, crosswalks and sidewalks for state roads. Over the next few weeks, UDOT officials hope to gather as much feedback as they can as they consider alternative transportation methods alongside or near new roads in future projects.

The public comment period was inspired by the growing popularity of alternate transportation options, as well as demand from the public and state leaders, according to Heidi Goedhart, UDOT's active transportation manager. She said the COVID-19 pandemic especially resulted in "tremendous increases" in walking and biking. Paved paths away from roads are typically more appealing for families, children or anyone who may be apprehensive about riding their bikes or walking near a roadway.

There are a handful of systems already in use, such as pathways near U.S. Highway 191 in Moab or along Kimball Junction in Park City.

"There's kind of been a shift toward this family-friendly, all-ability level type trail system or facilities like pathways in communities along our roadway systems," Goedhart said. "They really improve safety and that's why we're more interested in them (and) they have a higher return on investment."

With the public comment session, UDOT wants to figure out what needs, concerns or lack of alternate infrastructure currently exist, from those who bike, walk or use a wheelchair for any sort of important or leisure transportation.

Most of the input will go into future projects but they would also like to know where maintenance is needed for existing infrastructure, Goedhart added. That information can pinpoint possible areas where new bike lanes are needed or repairs to current trails are needed.

"While this is primarily for a planning effort, we do see a lot of usefulness for reaching out to the public to understand where they're walking and biking and where they might need facilities," she said. "We're wanting to do this effort in advance of our long-range planning process that kicks off shortly. ... This is a little bit of a precursor, if you will, to kind of understand where there might be more need or interest in planning, and how we can help, perhaps, provide some of those planning processes in areas where maybe we haven't in the past or now experiencing usage increases or there's a desire to improve active transportation facilities."

One of the benefits of gathering the input in the design process is that it can be easier and more efficient in the design and funding processes. It also gives designers a better idea of what the public wants out an alternate trail design that meets all the means of a community.

The public comment period will continue through Aug. 28. People can provide feedback by completing a survey on the UDOT website. The surveys are available in English and Spanish. People can also email thoughts to planning@utah.gov or call UDOT's hotline at 385-360-1900.

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