Fences around Trax make it that much harder to walk through Salt Lake City's huge downtown blocks. | News | Salt Lake City Weekly

Fences around Trax make it that much harder to walk through Salt Lake City's huge downtown blocks. 

Small Lake City

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I am not an infant, but sometimes I wonder if Salt Lake City thinks I am. Recently, while headed to dinner on Main Street downtown, I noticed—not for the first time—that the Trax tracks are now fenced off. Each time my body moves to jaywalk Main now, I can't.

"Jaywalking" is a negative term for what I see as the natural urban impulse to, like, get to your location in an instinctive way. Jaywalking is also a formerly lawful pedestrian impulse that only began to be penalized when car infrastructure took over American cities in the early 20th century.

Despite downtown congestion, I never used to have an issue jaywalking on Main. Even though, technically, it's an unlawful offense that could lead to fines, who has never jaywalked a massive SLC block? Sure, Main has more frequent crossing points than most other streets in the city, but it doesn't change the fact that having to—for example—walk north to a crossing, wait for the light, cross, then walk back south to your location is annoying. And if we want people to drive less, making it annoying to walk is not the answer.

These new Trax fences feel particularly infantilizing—like pedestrians can't be trusted to look both ways for cars or the train. And the cars! Who among us would disagree that cars on Main are busier looking for parking places than they are at looking out for pedestrians? Who among us has not almost been hit by such a car (or almost hit someone)?

To address this chaos, the city has been studying Open Streets—a temporary event where pedestrians get the run of Main Street, while cars are blocked from it—and its potential as a permanent part of downtown life.

UTA and the city put in the Trax fences to facilitate pedestrian safety during Open Streets, and to reduce potential pedestrian-train collisions, which UTA told me would also help to reduce service interruptions. But when I spent a few hours combing through news headlines from 2023, I only found one instance of a pedestrian collision with Trax downtown, and it was because the person lost their balance on the platform and fell in front of the train. Meanwhile, I found seven instances of cars hitting Trax in 2023, three of which were on the downtown Main Street stretch.

Cars not only seem to run into trains more often, but pose a high risk to pedestrians—with pedestrian deaths by auto in 2023 being reported as a high year. The fences, then, seem like little more than virtue signaling for thoughtful pedestrian infrastructure, especially given that in her January State of the City address, Mayor Mendenhall backtracked on taking away cars for a permanent, pedestrian Open Street on Main.

So, pedestrians can't be trusted on the streets near the tracks, much less to cross them (illegal!), but we're going to keep prioritizing car access to the same streets, no matter the risks they pose to people and Trax trains alike.

Welcome to my sick, twisted, jaywalker's nightmare.

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About The Author

Erin Moore

Erin Moore

Bio:
Erin Moore is City Weekly's music editor. Email tips to: music@cityweekly.net.

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