How to ride OGX, Utah's newest rapid transit service | Cover Story | Salt Lake City Weekly

August 09, 2023 News » Cover Story

How to ride OGX, Utah's newest rapid transit service 

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COVER PHOTO COURTESY OF UTA
  • Cover photo courtesy of UTA

OGDEN—Look, out on the street!
It's a bus; it's a train? No ... it's OGX!

While not quite as powerful as a locomotive—and certainly incapable of leaping tall buildings—bus rapid transit (BRT) is the next best thing. And beginning this month, the state's second BRT line (after the Provo-Orem UVX and not counting the built-but-dormant MAX on 3500 South) begins operations between Ogden Station, downtown Ogden, Weber State University and McKay-Dee Hospital, with stops at grade schools, libraries, theaters and other community hubs along the way.

Roughly 20 years in the making, the Ogden Express (OGX) represents a major step forward for transit in northern Utah. While Salt Lake has Trax light rail to extend car-free journeys beyond the FrontRunner stops at Salt Lake Central and North Temple, most of the state's other regional train stations can feel like dead ends, particularly for the uninitiated.

Enter BRT, a modern spin on transit that strikes a middle ground between buses and light rail. Cheaper to build in the short term but upgradeable in the long term, BRT combines the workhorse utility of a bus with the visibility and comfort of so-called "fixed guideway" transit—drawing a clear line between high-volume destinations and making it less intimidating for first-time riders and out-of-town visitors to get where they're going.

And thanks to dedicated lanes and other train-esque infrastructure, OGX will be empowered to slice through rush hour traffic like a knife through butter. It's also free to ride for, at least, the next three years.

Whether you're a transit pro or a bus beginner, here's what you need to know about using OGX to get around Ogden.

Caveats and Methods
The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) celebrated the launch of OGX on Aug. 2 with a ribbon-cutting and a round of speeches from assorted dignitaries. But in typical fashion for a large, bureaucratic, quasi-public agency, the party was a little premature—OGX doesn't actually begin service until UTA's "Change Day" on Aug. 20.

I traveled to Ogden on Aug. 3 and researched the new service by riding the 603 (a traditional bus that will be replaced and improved upon by OGX) and then biking back to Ogden Station along the express route. I was also born in McKay-Dee Hospital (OGX's southeast terminus) and grew up in Weber County—as a result, I feel relatively confident combining first-hand observations with a few educated guesses.

Thus, the travel times described below should be taken as rough approximations, albeit ones that tend to be more consistent than private vehicles due to the pesky habit of cars clogging up every roadway they touch.

Prologue: FrontRunner
UTA's flagship rail line currently extends north to Ogden and south to Provo, with Salt Lake City's two regional stations sitting near the midpoint. While the end of the decade could see trains every 15 minutes, riders today should be warned that FrontRunner arrives in 30-minute intervals during the morning and afternoon rush hours and every 60 minutes otherwise. On Sundays, FrontRunner doesn't arrive at all.

Salt Lake's prime placement means that trains from either direction arrive near the top of the hour all day, and near the bottom of the hour at peak. Southbound trains will hit North Temple first, while northbound trains will first stop at Salt Lake Central. But generally speaking, riders should aim for their arrival on the platforms to be around the '15s and '45s on the clock.

Hive Pass holders can purchase discounted FrontRunner fares, but a ticket is required for travel. Once onboard, the trip to Ogden takes just under an hour—no matter what I-15 traffic looks like on that particular day.

Bikeshare rentals are available at Ogden Station through GreenBike. - BENJAMIN WOOD
  • Benjamin Wood
  • Bikeshare rentals are available at Ogden Station through GreenBike.

Begin: Ogden Station
Ogden's train depot is among the better-situated in the state, with Historic 25th Street located a short (albeit dangerous) walk across Wall Avenue and with community attractions like the Ogden Amphitheater (home of the Ogden Twilight Concert Series) and Lindquist Field (home of the Ogden Raptors) within three blocks. The area is also set to undergo a major revitalization in the coming years, restoring Union Station and filling in the adjacent land with mixed-use housing and retail.

Exiting the FrontRunner, riders will find the OGX platform immediately to the west beneath the retro "Ogden Welcome Center" sign and with a waiting area built out of an old train car, making it one of only a few transit stops in the state with a fully enclosed shelter, when open. Weekday OGX service will run as often as every 10 minutes, but the projected headways drop on the weekends. For trips into downtown, some riders may find it simpler to rent a GreenBike (Ogden's are white) or to head out on foot.

Downtown stops like the Salomon Center and Peery’s Egyptian Theater will see high-frequency service on OGX. - BENJAMIN WOOD
  • Benjamin Wood
  • Downtown stops like the Salomon Center and Peery’s Egyptian Theater will see high-frequency service on OGX.

+ 5 minutes: Walk Like An Egyptian
After departure, it takes very little time for OGX to pass through The Junction (Salomon Center, Megaplex Theatre, restaurants, etc.) along 23rd Street and arrive at Washington Boulevard, where a boarding platform has been added to the center of the street near Peery's Egyptian Theater and the David Eccles Conference Center.

This stop bookends the historic portion of 25th Street, with Union Station located three blocks west. It is also the nearest stop to the Ogden Amphitheater for concert-goers, or to Ogden City Hall and Ogden City Justice Court. From here, OGX turns east up 25th Street.

+ 10 minutes: Wide Cometh Before the Fall
After passing the Main Library, OGX turns south on Harrison Boulevard—aka Utah's Highway 203—where new bus-only roadspace begins in earnest. Stops are conveniently located near Ogden High and Mount Ogden Junior High, offering a direct school-to-city connection for students. It's at this juncture that we should pour one out for Harrison, a once-beautiful street turned inhospitable car sewer with 10 lanes at its widest sections.

In exchange for use of the public right-of-way, UTA will offer free service on OGX for three years (a similar arrangement makes UVX free for now and underpins Salt Lake's Free Fare Zone). But the Utah Department of Transportation's reluctance to give up an inch of car space meant that the addition of BRT lanes pushed Harrison Boulevard even wider than it already was—particularly around 36th Street—representing one step forward and two steps back for overall walkability.

UDOT would say that widening Harrison was necessary to avoid catastrophic traffic congestion. Every city in the world operating efficient fixed-guideway transit without 10-lane surface highways would say that UDOT is wrong. While the widening can't be undone, it at least offers space to improve upon at some point in the future when cooler heads prevail.

Bus-only driveways and walking paths bolster a central transit station at the heart of Weber State University’s campus. - BENJAMIN WOOD
  • Benjamin Wood
  • Bus-only driveways and walking paths bolster a central transit station at the heart of Weber State University’s campus.

+15 minutes: Great! Great! Great!
Weber State University is where the real magic happens, with OGX-exclusive driveways cut through the heart of campus where no car is permitted to follow. But sidewalks and bike paths are incorporated, planting the seeds for a people-first thoroughfare that could be primed to one day become a top-shelf light rail line. And unlike the University of Utah, where Trax largely hews to the campus perimeter, OGX will deposit riders a stone's-throw from the Shepherd Union building.

From my seat on the 603—in the standard travel lanes—I watched an OGX training bus slip off of Harrison and disappear into campus through the express route, never to be seen again by my humble carriage. On the bike ride back, the pedestrian infrastructure offered a delightfully safe route passing through major campus destinations.

+20 minutes: Game Night
What OGX lacks in proximity to WSU's Stewart Stadium, it makes up for in direct access to the Dee Events Center and Weber County Ice Sheet. The new BRT station also helps to visually break up the relentless surface parking, which has otherwise been an asphalt ocean during my lifetime.

Depending on how quickly the university and county move to adapt themselves to OGX, this area could see considerable change in the coming years, akin to how development has exploded around the Central 9th and Old Greektown Trax stations in Salt Lake City. Land values being what they are, it's hard to imagine the Dee Events Center being surrounded for much longer by a surface lot with a footprint that is roughly eight times as large as the center itself.

An OGX platform offers direct access to Weber State University’s Dee Events Center and the Weber County Ice Sheet. - BENJAMIN WOOD
  • Benjamin Wood
  • An OGX platform offers direct access to Weber State University’s Dee Events Center and the Weber County Ice Sheet.

+25 minutes: Patients Are a Virtue
After the delights of the WSU stops, the OGX terminus at McKay-Dee Hospital can feel somewhat anticlimactic, though administrators there deserve praise for placing the platform close to the hospital's entrance, rather than on the far side of the parking lot (see: Murray Central Station).

I wasn't able to find a bike rack and had to lock up against a bench, which is a bad look for the end of a BRT route, as transit works best when integrated with cycling and other modes of active transportation. I was also nearly run over by a right-turning driver while exiting that parking lot on my bicycle, though we can hardly blame OGX for that.

When the BRT service is up and running, Weber State's existing campus shuttle will follow the express route to McKay-Dee, offering even higher-frequency service between those two locations.

Epilogue: Many Happy Returns
To get back to Ogden Station, a transit rider can simply follow these directions in reverse. High-frequency service means that the delay at any particular stop will be minimal—at least during weekdays—but gravity and geography also offer an attractive alternative to waiting for the OGX to arrive.

Similar to how the University of Utah is perched above downtown Salt Lake City, Weber State is uphill from downtown Ogden, with any number of cycling routes (or scooter, or skateboard, or onewheel, or Rollerblades, or ...) available to coast back down into the city with minimal effort.

The biggest hurdle is likely to be the wait for a southbound FrontRunner. With only hourly service (most times), it can be difficult to time a return trip to Salt Lake without knowing exactly when your business in Ogden will conclude.

While the wait is legitimately frustrating, perhaps the period between trains offers a chance to explore a little, or to patronize a local Ogden business. For what it's worth, the Ogden River Parkway is located to the north of the train station, with a particularly sweet biking connection along Grant Avenue and with riverside dining just west of Washington Boulevard.

Studies show that retailers typically overestimate the percentage of their customers who arrive by private vehicle, while underestimating those who arrive by bus, bike or foot. So make sure to let them know that transit sent you and to leave a generous tip.

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About The Author

Benjamin Wood

Benjamin Wood

Bio:
Lifelong Utahn Benjamin Wood has worn the mantle of City Weekly's news editor since 2021. He studied journalism at Utah State University and previously wrote for The Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret News and Entertainment Weekly

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