A Bridge to (Almost) Nowhere

The Deseret News recently reported that Orem is considering a pedestrian bridge over the freeway. The bridge is a long way off right now — both because it’s just being considered and because there are no funds for it yet — but if built it would link housing and the train station to the west of the freeway to Utah Valley University’s campus to the east.

The current connection between Orem's commuter rail station and UVU campus.

The current connection between Orem’s commuter rail station and UVU campus. 

More pedestrian infrastructure is a wonderful thing. Right now, students living just a mile or so away (and less as the crow flies) are forced to drive to school because there is realistically no walking path across the freeway. (I’m not counting narrow sidewalks that abut massive roads with high speed limits, and which rarely see much use.)

But this situation really illustrates the tragedy and futility of building awful, car-oriented spaces.

First, a bridge over the newly-widened freeway would be very, very expensive. I was once told that a pedestrian walkway in Provo that would go over 600 South — connecting that city’s train station to the surrounding streets — would cost $25 million to build. And that was a bridge over a relatively small, two-lane road without much traffic.

I15, on the other hand, includes at least four lanes in either direction, wide shoulders, and in some cases is wider than a football field is long. In other words, it will cost a fortune to build this bridge.

The better solution would have simply not to have destroyed this section of Orem in the first place. I’ve been dismayed over the last few years as Orem has applied the same kind of apparently computer-generated traffic designs that gave Provo it’s horrible interchange.

This area was maddeningly car-centric and over-paved a few years ago, when this satellite image was taken. In the last couple years, however, engineers have added even more lanes, more pavement, and more confusion. And they forgot about pedestrians.

This area was maddeningly car-centric and over-paved a few years ago, when this satellite image was taken. In the last couple years, however, engineers have added even more lanes, more pavement, and more confusion. And they forgot about pedestrians.

The result is that the area surrounding UVU and the University Parkway exit, while probably looking fantastic on some inept traffic engineer’s computer, is one of the worst spots in Utah. It’s confusing for drivers, typically congested and, most importantly, pretty much impossible to walk.

The point is that if any of the recent “improvements” to this area had simply been avoided, a pedestrian bridge may have been less necessary or at least less expensive.

Finally, it’s worth noting that a bridge between two entirely hostile areas is unlikely to pay off. Though I imagine it would avoid the worst areas immediately surrounding the freeway interchange, the land around the Frontrunner station and west side of UVU are still very car-centric. In other words, why would anyone take the bridge when the surrounding infrastructure effectively encourages them to drive? It is essentially a bridge to no where.

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