by Terry Newfarmer

You are an officer on a sailing ship in a cold northern sea, but you are not the captain.

The craft is overloaded with passengers, out of food, and the auxiliary engine is shot. The ship cannot move because there is no wind, but an arctic storm will arrive in a few hours. As you contemplate using the sails for shelter and the wood of the ship for fuel, you learn there is a large leak in the hold.

Your problems are similar to those of a transportation planner.

With a high birth rate, robust economy, and the appeal of a clean, outdoorsy place that people are reluctant to leave, the Wasatch Front is guaranteed to grow, and grow rapidly.

A thousand decisions about highways, shopping centers, industrial parks, suburbs, parks, and the like are being made that will shape life in the future. With growing alarm, observers of this process see decisions being made piecemeal, to meet expediencies of the moment, and in particular, transportation projects and land-use decisions proceeding as if they have nothing to do with each other. In response, governmental and private confederations are springing up, calling for long-range planning that asks not only if particular projects can be built, but if they should be built.

The University of Utah plays a dual role in long-range planning. Researchers in a variety of disciplines are a source of expertise for helping planners develop scenarios and understand consequences. With 24,000 students and one of Utah’s largest workforces, the University is also directly involved in Wasatch Front planning. The campus community is second only to downtown Salt Lake City in generating use of Utah Transit Authority bus routes, and will likely be a secondary destination for the TRAX light-rail system.

The Wasatch Front already seems urban. But not if one looks over the shoulder of Philip Emmi, professor of urban and regional planning, at a computer animated map of the region’s future. The present-day image shows the population centers – Salt Lake, Ogden, Provo, Nephi, Park City, Heber, Brigham City, Morgan – as discrete entities. As the decades pass by on the computer screen, different scenarios show these areas growing together into one overlapping blob like ink drops on a paper towel. It is not unlike the vast suburban geography surrounding Los Angeles.

Like L.A.? Utah?

Yes, says Emmi, unless growth is guided another way. Salt Lake is not alone; communities all over the nation and world face similar problems.

Planners call it “sprawl.” The phenomenon is not just population growth, but rather an evolution in the way people live and use land. Over the period 1970 to 1990, Chicago’s population grew only 4 percent, but the surface area of the city and suburbs_grew by 50 percent.

“There’s a problem with the way we plan,” Emmi says. “None of the travel models used locally show how new highways promote new suburbs while creating travel demands well beyond those the highways were intended to meet. By further subsidizing auto-dependent urban sprawl, today’s highway projects create an irresistible demand for more highway projects tomorrow. Like Angelinos, we’re being hooked into behaving like freeway junkies, high on cheap suburban land.”

Each decision, planned or otherwise, is a dilemma. How are private property rights balanced against the good of the whole? Is a zoning change for the benefit of all, or does it merely line someone’s pockets? How does a hodgepodge of governmental, business, and private organizations resolve issues about quality of life, jobs, wildlife habitat, pollution, water supply, commuting time, loss of farmland, taxes, mass transit, and the like, and how do they do so without quashing individual rights or consistently serving a narrow range of special interests?

“We can’t do nothing,” says Robert Adler, associate professor of law. “The decision to build a highway and the decision not to build it are equally profound. The choice is not whether to grow, but rather whether to grow on the basis of disjointed decisions, or_with planning, with or without public input.”

Adler knows whereof he speaks. Last November he organized the conference, “Transportation, Land Use and Ecology in the Wasatch Front,” under the sponsorship of the law school’s Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources and the Environment. The conference was designed to bring together national and local experts and decision makers in a context where growth and transportation issues are seen as part of the same whole. A report on the discourse and findings of the conference will be published by the Stegner Center.

Slated as conference keynote speaker was Robert Liberty, chairman of the 1000 Friends of Oregon, an organization that is credited with fundamentally changing how planning was done in the Portland area. Called the Land Use Transportation Air Quality Connection (LUTRAQ), the resulting effort found that making neighborhoods “pedestrian friendly” significantly reduced motor vehicle use.

Meanwhile, The Wasatch Front Regional Council, an organization of political leaders from Salt Lake City north to the Idaho border, and the Mountainland Association of Governments (from south and east of Salt Lake County) develop and publish their own transportation master plans. “These plans contain no overall description of what the outcome ought to be,” says Adler. “They are merely lists of projects that presumably would all be done if they could be funded.”

On the private side, the Coalition for Utah’s Future, headed by former legislator Stephen Holbrook, acts as a catalyst to bring together government and private decision makers to find common ground. The coalition spawned the creation of yet another entity, the Utah Quality Growth Public/Private Partnership, co-chaired by Gov. Mike Leavitt and businessman Larry H. Miller.

For the University’s part, growth and transportation planning is a research interest of faculty in a variety of departments. Peter Martin, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, is investigating the effect that toll roads might have on highway availability, quality, and funding. In the Center for Public Policy and Public Administration, political science professor Robert Huefner BS’58 is making an ongoing study of power structures and how decisions are made, while adjunct professor Eugene Carr BS’52 BGA’60 has conducted a variety of projects in Vernal and other communities to help them develop ordinances, zoning, and other methods for turning long-range civic plans into reality.

In architecture, professor Antonio Serrato-Combe has developed a 3-D computer model of downtown Salt Lake City that allows previsualization of how the addition of a new building or other features would affect cityscapes from various vantage points. Barbara Brown MA’80 PhD’83 and Doug Perkins, both associate professors of family and consumer studies, are working in the Guadalupe area of Salt Lake City to learn how best to involve community members in making the best use of community development block grants.

Emmi has multiple roles. He is academic adviser to the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget in developing analytical methods for the Quality Growth Efficiency Tools Project. As Lowell Bennion Community Service Center Professor for 1997-98, he has begun to work with the Coalition for Utah’s Future to describe urban growth scenarios for the next 50 years. Emmi has also served on the Utah Legislature’s Task Force on Air Quality, Transportation, and Land Use, which recently sought legislation to encourage regional planning cooperation.

University administrators are also involved in the planning process. “Our Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) is based on the premise that land use planning and transportation go hand in hand,” says Mark Beck BS’83 MS’87, director of facilities planning. “We have taken and are planning more physical measures to improve traffic flow, bus use, and parking, but we are also concerned with matters of policy, such as encouraging on-site child care facilities, on-campus housing, and a UTA bus-pass program.”

The bus pass for students and employees (subsidized by parking fees) is one of the University’s traffic-mitigation_measures being used as a model by the Utah Division of Air Quality_as it asks large employers to reduce single-driver commuting by 20 percent. Other measures include flexible work hours, car and van pooling, free campus shuttle bus routes, a guaranteed ride home in emergencies for those who take the bus, work at home, and promotion of alternative transportation such as bicycles.

The U’s Long-Range Development Plan allows for four hubs that would integrate TRAX (light rail) stations along South Campus Drive and near University Hospital with campus shuttles. The plan calls for road improvements and closures to improve traffic flow and safety, added parking structures, pedestrian links such as a bridge connecting the Residence Halls (Olympic Village) at Fort Douglas with the rest of campus, and an underpass on South Campus Drive. Perhaps the most important trend in the future will be the development of off-site locations into full-service branch campuses, and additional expansion of off-site health care clinics for the Health Sciences Center, Beck says.

On campus and off, planners seek to learn from the mistakes and successes of others. In a speech to the Coalition, former University president David P. Gardner said Utah today reminds him of California in the 1950s. “As with California, it would be easy for us in Utah to become overly occupied with our economic success, overly focused on the present, overly congratulatory of our accomplishments,” he said. “We mustn’t come, as California did, to undervalue those things that account for our success, or underestimate the impact of population growth on Utah’s quality of life.”

—Terry Newfarmer BS’66 BS’69 BS’78 is a writer/photographer in the Office of University Communications and editor of FYI...a faculty/staff newsletter.

Copyright 1998 by The University of Utah Alumni Association