I didn't go to Salt Lake looking for the "first" of anything in bike infrastructure. I seriously need to learn to let go of my preconceived notions before I get to a city but there it is I absolutely had them going into Salt Lake. With the help of Alexis from Salt Lake planning I was able to not only see but understand their revolutionary protected bike intersection and had any stereotypes totally wiped out. The first of its kind nationwide, it represents an enormous investment in the safety of cyclists and the Complete Streets mission. Complemented by two buffered and protected bike lanes on its streets, and a bar that has paid to support its very own bikeshare; standing at the corner of this intersection feels a bit like jumping 10 years into the future. While you would hope that this amazing feature had found nothing but support, it (more accurately its intersecting lanes) initially encountered a significant amount of resistance from nearby businesses and the political leadership in Salt Lake.
What was incredible on that front though was the participation of Salt Lake's mayor in their bike to work day, which I was lucky enough to attend! While she might not have historically supported all bike infrastructure efforts it was awesome to see her totally game, supporting a really wonderful initiative. Some of those really wonderful people were also nice enough to be my guides for the duration of my stay in Salt Lake.
Jen, Alexis and Mike were great not only because they were solid guides for downtown Salt Lake through their varying roles in the Salt Lake planning community but also because they acknowledged that you can't talk about Salt Lakes infrastructure without remembering their hosting of the winter Olympics. That established they decided that I needed to see Park City. Just a short drive away from Salt Lake, through some pretty incredible canyons is the smaller, though equally beautiful community. Its important to note that we drove because of my time constraints but it is totally possible to get to Park City on bike, the highway we drove on is edged by a mixed use path for (what seemed to be) its entirety. The two cities also run commuter buses between them and actually in Park City itself the bus system is totally free! (Yay for budget travelers. Comme moi.)
Park City hosted many of the Olympic events and still serves as the national training center for US freestyle. I always wondered how these seasonally based sports train year round; apparently the answer is to stick a really large pool at the base of the jumps. Seeing them hurtle down these slopes in full gear only to flip into a pool was both ridiculous and totally awesome. The same complex also hosts the luge and bobsled track which as a tourist you can actually ride down. A couple of my guides had done it so I have several accounts of it being "totally terrifying, and totally worth it". Your girl is really not an adrenaline junky though so I passed for this trip but the training center is still definitely worth a visit sans hurtling down a track.
I got the chance to see a little bit more of the Olympic facilities when Mike (with the University of Utah Planning Department) gave us a tour of the U campus which hosted the athlete village during the games (Fun Fact: Mike was actually on the support squad for the German national team!!). Many of those facilities used during the games have since been converted into student resources including housing and a cafeteria.
The campus is interesting beyond its game involvement though, it is a silver certified bicycle friendly university by the League of American cyclists. This means you can find lots of mixed use paths, specially marked bike trails, a fun bike and ped bridge, and perhaps most importantly; lots of cyclists!
There is of course so much to celebrate in Salt Lake when talking about public transit. Not just the buses that run between in and park city but its light rail and new transit center which brings together bikeshare, buses, lightrail, and Amtrak. It’s a beautiful facility but in a way seeing it breaks my heart. Like so many cities Salt Lake has had a train station for a very long time, one that is in their case incredibly large and beautiful. Unfortunately due to a serious lack of vision many years ago the tracks were moved and the station abandoned. On the positive side of that thought there are a number of plans to repurpose the space and surrounding areas which look really exciting and would totally transform the area only adding to the new transit center (which is just a block away).
It is hard to leave every city I visit but it was doubly difficult in Salt Lake because I ended my 24 hours there on such a high note. Mike, with the help of the planning dept. student org put together a happy hour at Squatters Pub (the aforementioned brewery next to the protected intersection). I learned a lot and got to meet some of the people responsible for the exciting projects I had seen that day. More than that though I got to meet some people who were just really lovely to be around. I can't speak highly enough of everyone in bike advocacy and planning that I've met. I think it might be something about dedicating your life improving communities for everyone; that mission just attracts people with big hearts <3