From the Site Studio

A Modern Streetcar in Utah

Historic Salt Lake Streetcar

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By Susie Petheram. Susie is a Senior Planner with CRSA’s Site Studio and is currently completing her Ph.D. in Metropolitan Planning, Policy, and Design.

In the early to mid-20th century–due to the advent of new transportation technologies such as the gas-powered, rubber-tired motor coach–streetcars were phased out as a public transportation option. After 75 years of service, the last streetcars in Salt Lake City ran in 1946, while Ogden ceased 50 years of service in 1935. In smaller towns, such as Logan, Brigham City, and Provo, the streetcar operated for brief periods ranging from 1910 to 1924.

Fast forward 67 years, and the streetcar is beginning its comeback. On December 8, 2013, the first modern streetcar made its debut in Utah. The S-Line connects the west edge of the Sugar House Business District and Central Pointe station at 2100 South, where riders can transfer to the TRAX Red Line (Draper to Downtown Salt Lake City) and the Green Line (West Valley City to Airport). Adjacent to the streetcar track is the linear greenway park, currently installed from 500 East to McClelland Street with the remainder to be implemented through South Salt Lake City in the near future.

While it may seem retro, the modern streetcar isn’t about nostalgia, and it’s more than just a transportation mode. The modern streetcar is linked to land use, economic development, and historic preservation. In contrast to the streetcars of the past, which often provided the means for new, suburban development, the modern streetcar is primarily considered within established neighborhoods.

S-Line Streetcar at Monument SiteWhat does this mean, what can residents expect, and how can they stay involved in the process? The key is to be informed and understand more about what the streetcar is, how it functions, and what the objectives are in both the short and the long-term from a neighborhood and regional perspective.

In addition to considering what destinations the new streetcar routes will connect, residents need to consider how the areas adjacent to the route and around stops will respond and shift to the new transportation mode. Land use planning and zoning changes are likely to be considered, especially in commercial areas that have evolved over the past century to be more automobile-centric in design. Redevelopment and infill development can start to integrate more walkable, pedestrian-oriented features and connections, often bringing back a physical culture that historic neighborhoods once enjoyed but became eroded when accommodating the automobile-centric development of the 50’s and 60’s and beyond.

Some lessons were learned from the process of creating the S-Line, which was more of a public-private partnership effort than the earlier light rail system. The opportunity to re-use the Union Pacific corridor for the S-Line streetcar and greenway helped create new vitality in an abandoned corridor. Residents helped vision about what the corridor could become and what elements would help achieve those goals. By contrast, a better integration of residents’ perspectives could have been achieved on the land use side – regarding location of stops and stabilizing existing neighborhoods while providing opportunities for higher density in areas of change. The balance between long-term planning perspectives and short-term ridership goals and land use can be a tricky compromise.S Line Finished

Currently, Salt Lake City is in the midst of an Alternatives Analysis for additional streetcar routes to/from downtown, after which environmental conditions will be documented and financial strategies explored over the next two years. Once these steps are completed, possible construction could start anywhere from 2017 to 2025. Two levels of analyses have taken place in the current Alternatives Analysis Study to evaluate and recommend route options. Public input was gathered and considered at both stages and the city is in the process of recommending a Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA). Look for a third open house sometime this summer to provide feedback on the LPA routes. Moving forward, residents can expect to consider the issues of land use, zoning, and planning related to the LPA routes identified.

Ogden City is also currently evaluating the potential for either a streetcar or Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to improve transit connections between downtown, Weber State University, and Mckay-Dee Hospital. This effort builds on previous studies evaluating different transit modes and routes. As in Salt Lake City, the choices made will play a role in stimulating economic development and revitalizing existing, historic neighborhoods.

Learn more about the S-Line at: