Upside down in a hummer

By John deJong

With oil prices up and people driving less, why does downtown need a four-story parking garage?

There’s a lot of feverish activity at Downtown Rising onthe north end of Main Street. Four floors of underground parking are beingbuilt under what will be a “pedestrian friendly” commercial/retail/residentialdevelopment.


The ironic part is that by the time the project iscompleted, most Americans will have bought their last automobile. The way theprice of oil is going, many shoppers from the suburbs will have to choosebetween being able to afford driving to downtown Salt Lake City and being ableto buy anything once they get there. Some will opt for mass transit. Most willshop at a mall a little closer to home.


The ultimate, and not too distant, fate of all thatparking will be as long-term storage/parking for mothballed vehicles thatbelong to the condominium owners living in that “pedestrian friendly”community. Maybe the real purpose of the sky-bridge over Main Street is so thatresidents won’t be forced to descend to the “storage levels” to get fromDowntown Rising East and Downtown Rising West.



In a grim reminder of the recent mortgage debacle, manyowners of large PUTs (Personal Utility Trucks) are upside down on the financingof their vehicles—they owe the bank more than the vehicle is worth. But hey—asthe price of oil continues to rise, their owners will likely be driving themless—and they will need some place to store them.


Is that what the Salt Lake Planning Commission, the CityCouncil and the developer Taubman Centers Inc. were thinking? If they were,they got it right. Likely, they weren’t thinking about the price of oil at all.And the Prophet and Seer of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints(The Church), a major player, might need a new pair of spectacles, as well.


Maybe it doesn’t matter. The way retailing is going, thestores will serve only as “reality” show rooms where shoppers can choose theirpurchases before they buy online. But I can’t help but think that Salt LakeCity and Downtown Rising would have been better served by, instead of spendingmoney on parking structures, building more light rail extensions to thesuburbs.


On the bright side: The future is here (well, at least inEurope) and it works. Already graced with mass transit systems that utilizejust about every form of transportation except large Single Occupant Vehicles(SOVs), cities in Europe are adopting public bicycle programs like there was notomorrow – for SOVs.


Driven by the American Dream and directed by car salesmenand real estate developers, it has taken us only 60 years to get into thelow-density/ high transit mess we’re in. We don’t have that much time to switchthings around. The population density in downtown SLC must grow rapidly if it’sgoing to support more than a handful of businesses.


If you build mass transit, they’ll come


Our only partners in revitalization are the residents andbusiness owners of Salt Lake City. County support for mass transit will beBalkanized, with each city and township trying to keep its residents shoppingat the local strip mall. The same can be said for the legislature which willonly begrudgingly spend money for mass transit (or rather authorize theexpenditure by local governments) when the air pollution gets so bad they can’tsee the top of the Church office building on a “clear” day from their perch onthe hill.


If Salt Lake City is serious about revitalization, it isgoing to have to get serious about making it happen. In the short term, itneeds to get on the “internet tax” bandwagon. Internet commerce needs nofurther breaks; brick and mortar businesses across the country can use everybreak they can get.


Mass transit will be an intermediate solution. The soonerSalt Lake County is criss-crossed with light rail and interconnecting busroutes, the better. Residential density will be the long term solution. The dayparking garages are being torn down to build apartments and condominiums willbe the day Salt Lake City turns the corner.


Here’s to the price of gas doubling.


John deJong is associate publisher of CATALYST.



Changing Utah’s energy production paradigm:

A coalition forms to study how our state can go 100% renewable 


Utah has taken a big step forward in changing the way itproduces and uses energy. A coalition of non-profits, researchers, businessrepresentatives, utility experts and economists has joined to study theimplementation of a carbon-free and nuclear-free energy policy for Utah, withthe expectation of making our state the first in the nation to do so.


This local coalition, led by HEAL Utah, is workingclosely with the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) inWashington, D.C., which last fall released a massive report examining how ourcountry can transform its energy grid in the next 30 to 50 years to eliminatecarbon dioxide emissions without the use of nuclear power.


Why Utah? Well, while most people agree that carbon-basedfuel has got to go, the arguments about nuclear power are far murkier. Giventhat Utah currently receives 98 percent of the country’s low-level nuclearwaste, the debate on expanding nuclear power has never mattered more here.Besides Utah’s vast coal reserves, our state also has plentiful renewable resources—solar, wind and geothermal.


Electricity policy happens at the state level, accordingto IEER President Arjun Makhijani, PhD. “This is where the leadership needs tobe because this is where the electricity structure decisions are made—at the levelof the grid and the regulatory commissions. I think it’ll be a bit of asurprise when we get done [implementing this study] that Utah will be the mostvisionary state in the union in terms of renewable energy, the environment andthe jobs they create.”


—Sophia Nicholas




This article was originally published on July 2, 2008.