December 10, 2023

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South Salt Lake’s city planner says traffic congestion is “a good problem to have” | News

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South Salt Lake's City Planner says that a traffic problem on Main Street would be "a good problem to have." - BENJAMIN WOOD

  • Benjamin Wood
  • South Salt Lake’s City Planner says that a traffic problem on Main Street would be “a good problem to have.”

While Salt Lake City is taking steps to promote foot traffic downtown by pushing cars away from Main Street, its neighbor to the south is looking to pack the asphalt with as many cars as possible in the hopes that some drivers will stop and buy junk food before heading back out on their way.

Speaking to Fox 13 about a proposed drive-thru fast food franchise at Main Street and 2100 South, South Salt Lake City Planner Jonathan Weidhamer welcomed the suburban and commuter car traffic it would deposit in the area.

“If and when we have a traffic problem and a parking problem, that will be a good problem to have,” Weidhamer said.

At issue are plans by In-N-Out Burger to build a restaurant with a two-lane drive-thru on what is currently an empty parcel just over the Salt Lake City/South Salt Lake City border. The restaurant would be the seventh drive-thru business in a one-block radius, joining existing chains like Starbucks, Del Taco and a new Jack in the Box.

But the bulk of car traffic in and out of those existing franchises is largely oriented around State Street and 2100 South, much larger thoroughfares that overtly cater to drivers compared to the narrower and relatively low-traffic Main Street. And the moves by South Salt Lake to dominate Main with private vehicles stands in direct contrast to the efforts of Murray, Millcreek and Salt Lake City to de-emphasize cars on Main through dense housing, resident-focused retail, bike lanes and other pro-pedestrian features.

In fact, Salt Lake City is exploring the removal of cars entirely on Main between 400 South and South Temple and recently completed a so-called “Road Diet” that reduced travel lanes to one in each direction, opening room for buffered cycling paths and creating a sort of infrastructure tug-of-war with South Salt Lake at 2100 South.

The In-N-Out site is also close to where the S-Line/Parley’s Trail crosses through South Salt Lake. That popular active transportation corridor was formally completed last week with new bridges to the Jordan River, but its conditions deteriorate through the South Salt Lake City segment, disappearing entirely at Main Street just south of 2100 South, which would only be made further hostile with the addition of fast food drive-thru customers.

In his comments to Fox 13, Weidhamer appeared to conflate vehicle congestion with sales tax revenues, an increasingly out-of-fashion philosophy of urban development. While many retail customers rely on private vehicles for transportation, car-dominated spaces are known to actively depress pedestrian comfort, creating a cycle that can push nearby customers away in service of drivers who may or may not stop on their way through a space. This dynamic is perhaps most visible on State Street, where many storefronts—and particularly those in older, pedestrian-oriented structures—are shuttered and dilapidated despite (or because of?) the nonstop vehicle traffic nearby.

Asked for clarification on Weidhamer’s comments, South Salt Lake City spokesman Joseph Dane said the city planner was referring to “traffic as a whole,” and how more cars on the road means that downtown South Salt Lake is drawing more shoppers, diners, visitors and residents.

“No one is advocating for intentionally increasing traffic congestion anywhere,” Dane said.

As friendly as South Salt Lake’s zoning codes are to driver-oriented businesses, In-N-Out’s proposal nonetheless requires tweaks to city code and, as a result, review by the city’s Planning Commission. Dane said the commission is scheduled to discuss the issue at its Thursday meeting.

“Looks like [In-N-Out] will have an entrance on Main and the east-side drive in back of Winco, with a large drive-thru on the site,” Dane said. “I suspect they will be required to conduct a traffic study, which I imagine will be discussed during the meeting.”