Resolving Conflict in Emigration Canyon

Cyclists and motorists both need to do their part to reduce conflict in Emigration Canyon. Here, 3 cyclists decend Emigration. Photo: Dave Iltis
Cyclists and motorists both need to do their part to reduce conflict in Emigration Canyon. Here, 3 cyclists descend Emigration. Photo: Dave Iltis

I am a member of the of the Salt Lake County Bicycle Advisory Committee (SLCBAC) and sit on its executive committee. At the SLCBAC meeting on January 8th, Megan Hillyard, a county employee assigned to work with SLCBAC, advised us that the Salt Lake County Council was considering having a bill introduced in the Utah State Legislature which would require all bicyclists riding in any canyon in Utah to ride single file.

The idea and impetus for this legislation came from the Emigration Canyon Community Council (ECCC), and arose from the longstanding simmering tension between motorists and bicyclists in Emigration Canyon. The rationale given for the proposed legislation was that it addressed a safety issue.

Megan, an invaluable advisor to SLCBAC, had quickly arranged a meeting with several Councilmen, members of the ECCC and other community councils dealing with similar issues, members of SLCBAC, and other cycling advocates. John Herbert and I, as members of SLCBAC’s executive committee, were selected to speak on behalf SLCBAC.

This meeting was a resounding success. There was frank discussion regarding the issues giving rise to the proposed legislation, and it concluded with a plan to work together to craft more specific legislation that would address the real issue, canyon riding in Salt Lake County and, in particular, Emigration Canyon. Further, everyone left the meeting, at least in my opinion, with a mutual respect for and understanding of each other’s concerns.

From there, and to make a long story short, the language of the proposed statute continued to be refined until we learned that the effort to pass this legislation was abandoned. This came about, primarily, as the result of an agreement to form a committee made up of residents of Emigration Canyon, county representatives and bicyclists that would identify and articulate specific issues and proposed efforts to address those issues. The idea for this came from Megan who, devoting incredible time and effort to this whole process, found a similar situation and effort in Colorado.

For me, it was a great learning experience on the political process, and on working together to address a divisive issue. I am hopeful this effort does move forward, and that actual progress results therefrom.

Being part of this process also reinforced for me the core issue of this ongoing tension between cyclists and motorists in Emigration Canyon. When it kept being asserted that this was a safety issue, I took exception to that. Granted, anytime you are speaking of roads, motor vehicles cyclists, safety is an issue. But I have the luxury of being both a cyclist and a resident of Emigration Canyon (or simply “the Canyon” as it is referred to by those of us who live there). From my experience as both a cyclist and a resident of the Canyon, the core issue is inconvenience for motorists who have to slow down. I know this in two ways: First, because I hear it from my fellow Canyon residents; and second, because I personally experience it as a motorist.

Yes, when I am driving home and come upon cyclists who slow me down, my initial reaction is to be irritated that they don’t move over. But then the cyclist in me takes over, and I take a relaxing deep breath and remind myself the delay is insignificant. But most of these motorists are not cyclists, and don’t have the luxury of understanding it from a cyclist’s view.

Recognizing that inconvenience for motorists is the real issue, it is not to be huffed at or set aside. It is a real emotion, and it creates conflict. It will not do to rant about cyclists’ right to be on the road, and to take up an entire lane when it is too narrow to ride safely to the right. Nor will it do any good to insist cyclists always ride single file. They are too chatty, and this is, after all, a social activity.

The key for this collaborative committee is to find ways to avoid traffic delays, and to calm motorists. Several ideas, such as pullouts, short sections of required single file riding, wider shoulders, and motorist education have been put forward. Consideration of these options as well as others, and coming up with the right mix of these and other ideas will be the task and challenge of this committee.

Pending that, I as both a motorist and cyclist can do my part. While I may often move into the lane to be more easily seen, when a vehicle is approaching from behind, I can pull as far right as and when reasonably practicable. If riding alongside others, we can drop into single file so the vehicle can pass more easily and quickly. And when a motorist expresses frustration in some way, I can avoid my own outward expression of defiance.

As a motorist, I can accept that the canyon is a cycling paradise and cyclists are not going to go away. If anything, the numbers will just increase. Given that, I can recognize that a short delay is not going to impact my life in any significant, or in most cases even an insignificant, way, and I can patiently wait till I can get around.

These personal efforts are just common courtesy and simple sense, really. And they require very little effort. Combined with a diligent effort by the proposed collaborative committee, we really can make this work. This is a situation where we can get along. We just need to work together and choose to do so.


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