December 30, 2018

Op Ed – No car? No problem: Alternative commuting on the west side

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by Evan George

As a west-side resident who works at the University of Utah, I take full advantage of TRAX. TRAX is the easiest and most convenient way to get to the U. My nearest stop, the 900 South station, is about one mile away from my home. To get to my stop I ride my bike, e-scooter, or walk. As a physically-able person in my mid-20s, these are feasible and realistic modes of transportation for me. But I do acknowledge that these modes aren’t reasonable for everyone because of the physicality involved.

Contrary to popular opinion, one does not need a car to get around Salt Lake City. For example,commuter cycling is becoming easier with the growing number of bike lanes. The installation of a bike lane on 900 West has transformed the street, and neighborhood, into a more bike-friendly community. The busy street used to be a nightmare to ride on, but now, I find it provides ample space to commute comfortably.

That said, there are a few obstacles that make commuting difficult for me. The biggest one is the blockage of 800 and 900 South by large freight trains. It is hard to plan around the trains because they don’t have a set schedule. Sometimes the trains completely stop, blocking the tracks. When that happens, I either have to wait or walk/bike to 400 or 1300 South, which is very time-consuming. The best way to deal with is this to leave early, in case I have to wait.

 Riding the bus isn’t a realistic option in my neighborhood currently, because there isn’t a bus route that travels east from 900 South and 900 West. I prefer to ride my bicycle; it’s the easiest, quickest, and most cost-efficient transit mode, but on days where I have a flat tire, or am feeling physically exhausted, I may take a scooter. A Bird or Lime scooter is about as quick as biking, since they go about 18 mph, but there is a small fee involved. Either way, I can usually make the mile trip to the TRAX station in under 5 minutes if I don’t hit a long red light.

All I had to do the first time I used an electric scooter was to download the Lime and/or Bird apps, and I was ready to go. The scooters are scattered around the neighborhood, and are restocked at certain spots each morning. To find a scooter, I check the map on the app and then take a short walk over to it. The scooters have a small initial activation fee of of $1, plus an additional 15 cents per minute after that.

In extreme circumstances when I’m running late, I will use Lyft or Uber. I try to avoid this option as much as possible because it is the most expensive. On days where I am not in a rush, I find myself walking the mile to TRAX while listening to my favorite music or podcast. When the weather is pleasant, I thoroughly enjoy walking. Not only is it refreshing, it the best way to feel the pulse of my neighborhood. I get sights, sounds, and even smells, that I would never experience if I were driving. Seeing my daily step-count numbers go through the roof is a welcome bonus. 

There are two main reasons I try to avoid cars, and use alternative commuting methods. The first one is financially motivated. It is so much cheaper to ride a bike than it is to drive a car. I didn’t have to purchase a vehicle, and I don’t have to pay for insurance, gas, parking, or repairs.

The other reason is environmentally motivated. The air quality in Salt Lake City is poor. If I can help cut back carbon emissions by riding a bike, then that is something I want to do. If all else fails, carpooling helps, too.

Alternative commuting isn’t always easy and it does require a certain level of physical ability, but to many, it can be extremely rewarding. Whether you are walking, biking, or riding a scooter, there are realistic options for west-side residents. I encourage you to give it a try. Not only will the environment thank you, so will your wallet.