Stephen James is Planning Daybreak to Make Cycling Easier

Stephen James is planning Daybreak as a bike friendly community. Photo: courtesy Stephen James.

By Lou Melini

Daybreak is a planned community on Kennecott Copper land. It is located between 10400 and 11400 South and west of Bangerter Highway. You can also get there via the Mid-Jordan Trax line (the Red line). We will hear from Stephen James who is involved in the planning of Daybreak.

CYCLING UTAH: Stephen, What is your position in the development of Daybreak?

Stephen James: I run community planning, neighborhood design, and architecture for Kennecott Land. Much of my work revolves around exploring design for healthy community lifestyles.

C.U.: I understand that you have taken the extra step to help with your job.

S.J.: I figured I could learn something about creating livable, walkable and healthy community form by leaving the car at home, riding my bike and utilizing public transit. The transition has changed my life dramatically and affected the way I think about the resources I consume and the world that I live in. I have also found a new pace for life, one that is less rushed. I suppose this slower pace is due to the fact that my 25-mile bike commute from my home on the Avenues to my office in Daybreak takes an hour and fifteen minutes.

C.U.: What was your initial experiences bike commuting to Daybreak?

S.J.: The commute does have challenges, but I have learned to adapt. Most communities between here and there did not consider much more than the needs of automobiles when they were built, but the recent addition of bike lanes along the way has really helped. I ride year round, but rely more on TRAX when the road is wet in the winter. I discovered that maintaining the bike day in day out in the winter when my hose is frozen is a big hassle. I rusted out the drivetrain of a bike two winters ago, because I have no practical way of rinsing the salts off the bike. Now, when the weather is tough I’ll commute to work with colleagues that live in the area. They have been quite gracious to let me play it by ear and text them in the morning or hook up at the end of the workday. I find riding in the winter to be tough because of the decreased daylight hours. My dual Newt LED Lights are great for about an hour, so there comes a point in the season when the commute is just too long. In past years I’ve taken TRAX from downtown to Sandy in the dark and then and pedaled a quick eight miles up to the office in Daybreak as the sun is rising. The Red Line now runs between the U of U and Daybreak. Service began in August and I have taken it a number if times. It is quick and easy, so I’ll have to resist the temptation to take it too often.

C.U.: How far into the planning or development stage is Daybreak?

S.J.: Daybreak is various stages of planning and development. A master plan was developed to organize the neighborhoods around trails, parks and open space. We develop more detailed plans for each 1500 home village based on demand in order to keep the neighborhoods fresh and to evolve the vibe that appeals to people who are looking for a fun place to live. Of the 20,000 residences in the plan, nearly 3,000 are built. We have also built recreation facilities, pools, community gardens, shopping and dining streets, apartments, office space that are all organized into a small town.

C.U.: Currently your wife Julie and 3 daughters are able to bike and shop at the Smith’s on 6th Ave. Would they be able to travel around Daybreak on their bikes?

S.J.: Funny you ask. Three or four years ago, a business guest that I was taking on a neighborhood tour (He has designed communities around the world that are based on similar principles) remarked how incredible it was to see a handful of unattended children with their bikes parked at the side of the lake skipping rocks across the water. Somehow in the last 30 years, especially in the suburbs, children have been isolated to their street or cul-de-sac, unable to safely explore the towns in which they live without being driven. This is not the case for Daybreak neighborhoods. We built a large park network that radiates from a large lake in the center of the community. The lake itself is over a mile long from North to South and is wrapped with parks and dedicated bike/ped paths that reach back into the neighborhoods. The vision that we continue to build is that everyone can get anywhere in the 8 square mile community without having to cross a wide, high speed road. We have just finished building a significant new bridge to carry the traffic over the trail network on South Jordan Parkway at 10400 South. Another series of bridges are built for the same purpose on 11400 South. So far, about 14 miles of our trail network is built.

C.U.: In my opinion car speeds are a big deterrent to cycling on roads. . Are roadways being designed to prevent higher rates of auto speeds or will the roadways simply have a speed limit sign?

S.J.: The neighborhood roads are designed to slow traffic without increasing the time of travel. We do this by pulling the homes closer to the street and providing garage access off of rear lanes, encouraging street parking for guests, narrowing the pavement, and establishing frequent and consistent tree plantings. The approach creates visual friction with the edge of the roadway so people in cars feel like they are traveling faster at lower speeds. We also have a fine grain street network, so that bikes, pedestrians, and cars have many alternative and more direct routes. The comfortable travel speeds on these roads range from 15-25 mph depending on how many cars are parked. We tend to agree with the new NACTO bikeway standards that streets with these speeds do not require additional biker accommodations. They are inherently bike friendly.

C.U.: Will commercial areas be accessible by bikes or pedestrians?

S.J.: They certainly are. Our first commercial district is called SoDA Row. This is short for South Daybreak Row. It is a hip new neighborhood reminiscent of Salt Lake City’s remaining neighborhood retail districts that are directly imbedded within the neighborhoods. Currently located along SoDA Row, which by the way is right across the street from Oquirrh Lake, where you can sail and kayak, there is a gelato shop, sushi bar, clothing boutique, single chair barber, beauty salon, Mexican restaurant, bakery, day care, offices, bank, gym…. You get the picture. Bike and stroller parking is out front, and cars are parked around back. The bike trails goes right through the middle of it, By bike, it is accessible to anyone in the community in about five minutes. We’ve planned a number of these village centers that we will build over time.

C.U.: How motivated is the team of designers, Kennecott and anyone else involved in the project to make it into “the healthy community lifestyle” that you envision?

S.J.: We are motivated to create the type of place that people along the Wasatch Front demand. We are an active bunch without a lot of healthy neighborhood options. The vision for Daybreak was spawned by the Envision Utah process that took place over ten years ago. The broader community asked for development to occur in a manner that could improve or at least maintain our quality of life. I think the place speaks for itself.

On my bike ride in to work in the morning, I see more people on the street or trails at Daybreak than anywhere else along my 25 mile commute. The open space network and the beautiful setting draws people outside. We also have about three hundred community garden plots, parks, playgrounds that are well utilized. Researchers at the University of Utah published a study last fall to that concluded that the physical design of a community influences behavior by either creating or eliminating barriers to healthy behaviors. We look forward to further studies that link public health to community form. We are also trying to improve air quality by eliminating car idling and working out how to measure vehicle miles traveled so that we can compare our community against other more auto-reliant suburbs.

C.U.: What is the reality that somehow this will become a little European community vs. a bedroom community full of cars?

S.J.: This might be a bit of a stretch, at least in the near term. We are currently trying to put walking, biking, and transit use on an equal footing with driving. This is done by providing local amenities and services that are convenient and close, located along walkable routes. People still have the choice to behave how they will. This concept is new to many suburbanites that have always driven everywhere they go. But, we are certainly working to get the message out about alternative modes of transportation.

C.U.: Can a truly well designed community change attitudes away from car use?

S.J. I think so. That is part of the reason why I sold my car; to get a better handle on how community design impacts lifestyle. I have though a lot about this in my work and personal life. To be honest, I have developed a greater appreciation for why people choose to drive. We’ve been duped. Often, the distance to be covered and time required are simply too great for most people with hectic lifestyles. The American Dream demands an investment in time and energy. The automobile has become a crutch or prosthesis that has helped us adapt to greater distances. There is a cost however.

We expect less from our neighborhoods now. Our time on the road has dulled our senses. We don’t demand the character and craftsmanship in our homes and neighborhoods when we look at them while traveling 45 mph. Walking and biking speeds are another story. There is much more time to immerse ourselves in the environment. Unfortunately, we leave our homes through the garage door and park our car somewhere in a large asphalt lot only to return home through the same garage door we left. Have you ever noticed how absurd it is to sit in a car during rush hour, so close to so many people, and not interact with them? That never happens on a bike. This might offend some people, but it is true. Most people don’t even consider alternative modes of mobility because we have come to accept the auto-centric lifestyle. I digressed here a bit only to set up an alternative approach. Community design does affect behavior. Just visit neighborhoods that were developed prior to the Great Depression and you discover homes located on smaller blocks with many connected intersections, garages are generally in the back, and there was a corner store or neighborhood market. The point here is that the distances were manageable and the walks pleasant. Most suburbs now don’t have the physical connections that even make walking or biking possible. They were not planned holistically. Land ownership is too fragmented making coordinated city planning as difficult as herding cats. I digressed again, but yes I see a change in parts of Salt Lake City, and certainly in Daybreak.

C.U.: What examples from other parts of the country can you give to support this?

S.J.: What seems to work best is the price of gasoline. I am amazed by the increase in cyclists I see commuting when the price of gas goes up and during the Clear the Air Challenge. Given the high price of car payments, gasoline, insurance etc, I surprised that there are not more people who lose the car. You can buy a new bike pretty quickly with the money you save. There are a number of cities in the US that have developed great biking cultures such as Madison, Minneapolis/St Paul, Portland, and Berkeley. These are all places where significant investment has been made biking infrastructure. I spent some time in Brisbane, Perth and Sydney, Australia in August, where the biking infrastructure is incredible… and so is the weather.

C.U.: Does pushing the “healthy community lifestyle” in marketing affect who lives there?

S.J.: We do market the possibilities related to a healthy lifestyle. We even host triathlons. We try to attract buyers who value both a home and a fun, safe place to live, regardless of the demographics. This means there is something for everyone, from apartments next to the restaurants and shops to larger homes next to the lake and trails.

C.U.: Let’s move on to your commute. If you rode your bike the entire way what are some of the streets that you would say are bike friendly for others to use? Are there any streets that are to be avoided? What is your general route?

S.J.: I have become accustomed to riding on busier streets and will generally take the lane if my speeds are high enough. UTA’s route 209 bus makes things fun along 9th East. It paces me and I often race the bus down Ninth East to about 53rd South in a game of cat and mouse. My approach depends on the season. In the hot summer months I enjoy the cool morning ride down South Temple to 9th East. The route transitions to 7th east in Murray and gets a bit sketchy until the bike lane shows up in Sandy. There are generally a number of people on bikes along the way, so we are not completely unexpected by those driving in cars. Once I reach 98th South, I turn west where a bike lane winds through the Sandy Civic Center, before crossing under I-15 on 10000 South. At the Jordan River, the bike lane winds back to 9800 South which is a pleasant 8-mile uphill ride to my office at SoDa Row. This road is a single lane in each direction with a wide shoulder. Most of the road is posted 35mph, but a significant stretch is 25 mph. That is the type of road I prefer. The route also affords long stretches between stoplights. Waiting at lights can slow things down quite a bit on a long commute. I’ve ridden State street as well, but it gets really sketchy in Midvale and other places. The Jordan River Parkway trail is another route I’ve taken. There are still a few gaps that required me to bushwack or backtrack.

C.U.: If you use Trax are you doing so to reduce distance or avoid certain roads?

S.J.: I use TRAX less now that I figured out that it is just as fast to ride. Although now that it goes straight to Daybreak, it will provide me with options when I end up working late. I must admit that I do not enjoy riding an hour or more in the dark on icy streets.

C.U.: How would your commute look once the Daybreak Trax line is operational in the summer and in the winter months?

S.J.: I’ll probably switch from my Orbea Orca to my single speed Trek belt drive and shorten my commute by utilizing TRAX sometime in late September or early October through March. I’ll have to see how it goes. I’d rather ride my bike than stand by politely on the train.

C.U.: What has your experience been with the belt drive bike?

S.J.: I fell in love with the belt drive concept a few winters ago after rusting out my drivetrain on my mountain bike. Keeping the bike clean of salts was too troublesome, when you arrive home long after dark and you have no place to rinse off the bike. The carbon belt does not have these challenges. It just hums along salt or no salt. I have not had problems with belt slippage. The rear triangle comes with a tensioning preset that is quite easy to deal with. Belt replacement would be no problem, but I am to expect about 20,000 miles from the belt. The bike makes a nice low humming noise, kind of like a cats purr. Small pebbles will flip up in the cog from time to time that will generate a startling snapping sound, the design jettisons the pebble quickly enough. Now that I know what the sound is, I rarely notice it anymore. I got the bike primarily for riding around town, but I have ridden it to work. I love the no-to-low maintenance of the belt system.

C.U.: Tell me more about the bike.

S.J.: I got the bike primarily for riding around town, but I have ridden it to work. I put a flip flop pedal on it so that I can clip in on longer rides, but I have to admit that 25 miles is a little far on the single speed. I put a leather saddle and grips that I picked up in Copenhagen a few years back. To be honest, I’m a sucker for simple clean design. It is the original Trek District. It is grey with a few orange pinstripes and chrome accents. It comes with a chain guard. If I were more technically inclined, I’d consider rebuilding the rear wheel with a Rohloff or Alfine rear hub. This would certainly put the bike up for longer commutes. I have not put a rack or fenders on it. The black stripe I get up my back when it is wet is a point of pride. I did pick up a messenger bag made of bicycle tubes to keep my change of clothes dry.

C.U.: Thanks Steve, I’m looking forward to Daybreak’s completion. The 50-mile commute is quite the challenge but I’m glad you have options with Trax.

S.J.: Great. You should ride your bike out there some time. We are working hard to connect our trails to others in the region.

Note: Correction and comments from previous articles: In some recent articles the numerical one-half for some reason did not print. For example the Urbie mirror in the September article about mirrors stated a 3 X 2 size when it is actually 3.5 X 2.5 inches. I will need to use decimals in the future. The dropping of the numerically written one-half also happened in the Germany touring article when mentioning tire sizes.

In addition, I forgot to mention in the “need to know” section of the Germany touring article that Germany is a cash society. Over 80%, perhaps 90%, of our purchases were transacted with cash. Discover Card is not taken at all in Germany.

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