While city councilmen and their challengers all want to move city transportation forward, it was clear from a Wednesday forum that the candidates’ visions weren’t all on the same bus route -- especially District 2 challenger Kyle LaMalfa, who suggested the city study ditching the Utah Transportation Authority for city bus service.
At a forum put on by the Vest Pocket Coalition, an advocacy group of small, independent Salt Lake City businesses, city leaders and their election opponents spent the better part of an hour singing the praises of small-business owners in the city. But it wasn’t until the end of the forum that panelists began truly distinguishing themselves in discussing transportation issues.
In attendance, Mayor Ralph Becker politely touted new bike lanes and light-rail expansions, while his opponent, dark-horse candidate J. Allen Kimball, mostly spoke about his years as small businessman while referring forum attendees to his campaign literature for his campaign talking points.
LaMalfa, who garnered 40 percent of the vote in the September primary against three-time incumbent Van Turner, said that thanks in part to the vanishing bus service in his district as well as other parts of the city, the council should consider going another direction with UTA.
“I know it may be kind of bold, but maybe it’s time for Salt Lake City to step out of UTA and create its own transportation district, much like the University of Utah or Park City,” LaMalfa said. “We definitely need buses to be part of the equation and we’re not being served by UTA,” LaMalfa said.
While LaMalfa conceded it was more a plan to discuss and dialogue, Councilman Van Turner, for whom LaMalfa is seeking to displace from his west-side seat, argued that streetcars need to have a renaissance in Salt Lake City.
“There used to be 205 miles of streetcars in Salt Lake City at one time. I’m fully supportive of streetcars downtown,” Turner told the forum, recalling multiple visits he made to Portland to study that city’s streetcar system. While that idea hasn’t laid much track among the current council, Turner also applauded the expansion of the city’s light-rail TRAX line and the addition of new bike lanes in his district as movement in the right direction for the city.
But it wasn’t just LaMalfa toying with the idea of branching bus service out from underneath UTA. District 6 Councilman J.T. Martin -- who presented at the debate unchallenged as his opponent, Charlie Luke, was out of town--also looked to the University of Utah’s transportation district for solutions to the city’s mass-transit needs.
“One of the issues we have in my district is that we continue to lose bus routes all the time,” Martin said. “Forty-five percent of the university’s staff, employees and teachers live in District 3 and District 6, and they already have an incredible bus infrastructure at the University of Utah with buses, shelters and drivers—so why can’t they feed into District 6 and 3?”
Martin acknowledged that the idea was rough and would require a lot of planning, but thought that if executed correctly, it might even relieve some of UTA’s burden. “I know they [UTA] have a lot on their plate and it’s very expensive,” Martin said.
“But if others can’t do it, let’s figure out how we can.”