Streetcar plans highlight Weber State-Ogden City transit talks

Thursday , February 13, 2014 - 10:12 AM

Cathy McKitrick, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — A transit talk between Ogden City officials and Weber State University students and faculty this week moved from more parking stalls to safer crosswalks, cheaper bus service, better bicycle infrastructure, and an old favorite — a streetcar connecting downtown to campus.

About 30 students attended the special noon-hour city council session in Weber State’s Shepherd Union Building. How to attract more WSU students into Ogden’s downtown to eat and recreate came up for discussion, but some believe enhanced transit is needed to make that happen.

“Critical to students enjoying downtown . . . we’ve got to have a great transportation system between here (WSU) and there (downtown),” said Brady Harris, WSU Senate President. “And so the streetcar project is always in the back of our minds.”

James McNulty, a strategic planner for Utah Transit Authority, said the agency is making progress toward launching a streetcar study.

“We sent an RFP out in December and had a number of consultants respond,” McNulty said. UTA recently selected a consultant it hopes to get under contract within the next two weeks, he added.

The study will scrutinize two route options to connect Ogden’s downtown Intermodal Hub at 23rd Street and Wall Avenue to WSU — 1) via 25th Street to Harrison Boulevard, or 2) via 30th Street to Harrison Boulevard. A third option, McNulty added, would be to do nothing.

Over the next 12 to 18 months, UTA expects to host several outreach and neighborhood meetings about the streetcar project, McNulty said.

WSU Geography Department Chairman Bryan Dorsey asked if a streetcar would help fuel Ogden’s economic engine.

“We know transit and land use are connected,” McNulty responded. “Certainly if a fixed guideway comes through and the mode that is chosen is streetcar, I think it’s really going to enhance economic development in the downtown area.”

While streetcars provide a slower mode of transportation that allow riders to get on and off more frequently, that aspect could also be seen as a downside for students in a hurry to reach campus after deboarding FrontRunner, UTA’s commuter-rail system that connects Pleasant View on the north to Provo on the south.

WSU student Tyler Hall, a disabled veteran who relies on public transportation to get around, decried the time it takes to travel via FrontRunner and current connecting bus routes. And while UTA’s express buses save time, their $6 fare puts them out of reach, Hall added.

“My dream idea is to have the 650 (bus route) go from the Ogden FrontRunner to the Layton FrontRunner with stops at either campus,” Hall said. That improvement could cut his two-hour-plus travel time down to about 45 minutes, he added.

Hannah Rice, outreach and education coordinator for WSU’s Energy and Sustainability Office, asked about future plans for bicycle-friendly infrastructure on campus, including more cycling lanes and signage.

“Building infrastructure that’s friendly to bicycles is going to be a big part of the solution, encouraging people not to drive cars to campus,” said WSU President Charles Wight.

Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell, an avid cyclist, said he hopes to promote more active transportation corridors. The city is currently working on a Bicycle Master plan that will include a route from downtown to Weber State.

“When I graduated from Weber State 20 years ago, it had about the exact same type of parking infrastructure,” Caldwell said, a system he believes is no longer sustainable.

Moreover, time spent commuting by car detracts from community building.

“When you plan around cars only, you choose to harden the community you live in,” Caldwell said.

Cities that plan now for people- and eco-friendly transport will have an edge in attracting high-tech businesses and creative thinkers, Caldwell added.

“And one of the sleeping giants we haven’t mentioned is air quality,” Caldwell said. “That’s a huge issue right now.”

Most of Weber State’s 25,000 students commute to and from campus.

“But the issue is more complex than one would expect,” Wight said, “and the solutions to our parking and transit woes have to be more nuanced than simply slapping down more pavement and putting white lines on it.”

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or cmckitrick@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.

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