This project began with a thought in the middle of the night. The thought occurred after the BYU Campus Bicycle Committee discussed creating a back-streets bike route from Wymount student housing to campus through the Tree Streets as a safe(r) alternative route to 900 E, a narrow, 35 MPH fast but often faster, and dangerous four lane road with minimal shoulder space.
That got me thinking. What other student housing areas do not have safe way to campus? The area around 450 N just east of 900 E came to mind. The area, which includes such mega-apartment complexes as King Henry, Belmont, and Centennial is one of the most densely populated areas in Provo. Shouldn’t bicycling and walking to campus, which is less than a mile away, be an viable option for students and others who live there? But just like, actually even much more than for students who live at Wymount, 900 E acts as a barrier to bicycling and walking to campus for students there. At least from Wymount, there is now a new multi-use trail on the west side of the street that students and others can use. Nothing like that exists on 900 E to the southeast.
We knew from the Provo Bicycle Master Plan that 800 E, a quiet street that runs from Center Street up to 820 N and BYU, had been designated to become a Neighborhood Bikeway (like 200 E) as an alternative to 900 E as well as to narrow, busy 700 E. But how could we get students from that housing area over to 800 without subjecting them to treacherous 900 E?
One night, I woke up and had an epiphany, though admittedly a naive one. Perhaps some property owners would allow us to build a path between their lots to bridge the gap between 900 and 800 E. I decided to jog over there on my morning run and check things out. What I discovered was a dream come true. A pathway already existed. It connected the southwest corner of the bioplasma donation center on 900 E to 800 E. (For those that remember Provo in the 70s, the plasma center was once the Star Palace.) Further research revealed that it was an official city alleyway and therefore public right-of-way. It was once a path that grade school students and others regularly used to get to the Joaquin Elementary School that once stood near 700 E. This path was the key to providing students living in that area with a safe route to campus by foot or bike and could act as an alternative to driving or taking the Ryde student shuttle. All students needed to do was cross 900 at the signalized intersection at 450 N and walk through the block to 800 E and they would be on a quiet street that led them up to campus. Here is a map of the alleyway that was part of the Menlove Plat B Subdivision in 1943.
But this would not be a route unless we made it more appealing and safe and publicized its existence, so active transportation proponents took things into their own hands–literally. In late 2017, volunteers from bikeprovo worked with residents of the Joaquin Neighborhood (who all happened to be part of the bicycling community) to apply for a $5000 neighborhood grant from the city council and secured another $3000 from UTA to make a series of improvements, most of which have now been implemented. Thanks to Wayne Leavitt and others in the Joaquin Neighborhood for all their support. Here are the routes to campus we aimed to create.
This fall, volunteers led by bicycling advocate extraordinaire Marlo Jensen and Colony resident and urban planning major Miles Miller cleared vegetation that had overgrown the pathway and another one that continued westward connecting 800 to the Colony and 700 E as well as 500 N. Here are before and after photos of the latter pathway (looking from opposite directions) between 800 and the Colony.
Also group of residents of the Maeser Neighborhood, through which the 800 E Neighborhood Bikeway will extend via 850 E, supported the project by organizing a goathead weed elimination clean-up along 850 E by the Vista Ridge Apartments on the first Saturday of October. Not only did the project rid the area of thousands of tire-puncturing thorns, it also generated hours to help match the grant received by their neighbors in Joaquin. And it was a lot of fun.
The grant we received was used to pay for surveying work and excavation on the pathway between 900 and 800, which was narrow, asphalt, and in poor condition. Then over two weekends in late October, dozens of volunteers from the bicycling community, the Joaquin and Rivergrove Neighborhoods, and BYU, with invaluable help from the Parks Department (in the form of lending us concrete forms and tools), poured and finished 15 yards of concrete to create a beautiful public pathway. Project organizers thank Western Paving for their donation worth $430 and especially Geneva Rock for its donation of 9 yards of concrete worth around $1350. We are particularly appreciate concrete wizards Terry Smith, Bob Coleman and Zac Whitmore, who directed our efforts.
Meanwhile, the Public Works Department, drawing on the funds we received from UTA, painted bike markings on 800 E from Center Street to 700 N. Thanks to Jared Penrod of Public Works and the Streets Department for being great partners on this project.
To further beautify the pathway, volunteers led by the Provo Bicycle Collective’s Kira Johnson, drawing on a $250 grant from the Mayor’s Office, painted a mural inspired by street artist Leuven’s iconic “Bike Provo” design on a shed next to the pathway. It looks awesome.
The project is not yet quite complete. The city still needs to post “Neighborhood Bikeway” and “BIKES may take the lane” signs and add some more bike markers on the route, and do a curb cut on 820 N to ease bicycle access to the multi-use trail behind J-Dawgs that will take bicyclists and pedestrians up to the scramble intersection at 900 N and East Campus Drive (which is much safer than the 700 E/900 N/South Campus Drive intersection). Also, pedestrian access from 450 N to the intersection at 900 E is less than ideal. On the north side of the street along VASA Fitness, there is not a sidewalk and pedestrians must walk around parked cars. On the south side, there is not a sidewalk and usually space to walk along the parking lot but pedestrians have to deal with a trip hazards especially next to the Yoga studio (which was once a Mad Dog bike shop). It is sad that for decades such poor walking conditions have gone unaddressed, but we are hopeful that our efforts will lead to improvements being made there too.
To bring attention to this route, in the coming months we will post signs along this route (as well as along 200 E, another new Neighborhood Bikeway). We are thankful to the Utah County Health Department for a grant to pay for the signs.
We are confident that better bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure will keep residents (and in this case especially students) safe, encourage them to be more physically active, give them additional transportation options, and improve their quality of life. We are proud of this project, particularly the work of volunteers to construct a pathway for the public, but we urge the city to make improving walkability and bikeability a priority, particularly in areas around BYU, by allocating dedicated transportation funding to building sidewalks and bicycle infrastructure. According to Census and Department of Transportation data, around 15% of Provo residents walk and bike to work and school, yet our city transportation budget and policies are almost entirely focused on encouraging and facilitating driving. Provo has achieved this 15% mode shares through circumstance (primarily by BYU requiring most of its single students to live within a 2 mile radius of campus) RATHER than city policies that fairly and wisely fund modes of transportation according to their actual current ratios and according to which ones are best for our quality of life and quality of air. We also urge the city and BYU to work collaboratively to reduce single-occupant auto commutes to campus and maximize those completed on transit, by bike, and on foot. Advocates of walking and bicycling are stepping up and acting. It is time for our elected leaders, city officials, and largest employers to do so as well.