For all the freshman, transfer students and non-Utah natives out there, we have bad news: the University of Utah is built on a mountain. This means you will spend a lot of time climbing stairs and walking up hills. When I was a freshman we called it the “negative 15.” As innovative college students, we will naturally figure out how to hack this hill process and get around faster and at a more level pace.
There are a multitude of ways to get around campus which, in addition to being on a hill, is also huge and very cold in the winter (that’s February in Utah). Not all forms of transportation are equal, and unfortunately, there is no one best way to get around. Here are some thoughts as you embark on your hill hacking journey.
UTA means TRAX, FrontRunner and the non-campus shuttle buses. These are great to get from anywhere in the valley to campus. Note the phrase “to campus” — they will not actually get you to class and, depending on which building you need to go to, it can mean quite a long walk. All fares are included with your UID — just don’t forget to tap on. TRAX is particularly popular with students in the dorms, as it drops off right next to Smith’s, which is the best grocery store to go to for good deals. Trader Joe’s is also in the same area if you want to spend lots of money on delicious, small amounts of food. Beware: TRAX and buses on game days, particularly football days, get extremely crowded and sports fan tend to be loud and boisterous.
As mentioned above, campus shuttles are also buses. These buses are specific to the U, however, and are easily recognizable. They are all white with red insignia. There are several different colored-coded lines. Orange, red and blue all stick close to campus. The shuttles run every ten to fifteen minutes and can actually get you on campus, although you are probably still going to have to walk to your class if it’s in the center of campus. The shuttles are a great way to get to the dorms at the end of the day or to get out of the cold if you have a long break. They are notoriously off-schedule and don’t arrive on time often, so plan extra time or find another way to class.
Owning your own car in college is super convenient unless you are using it to get to class in the mornings. This gives you the most freedom for sure, but parking at the U is an absolute nightmare between 8 a.m. and noon. After noon, it starts to open up a little bit, and at 3 p.m. all of the A lots turn into U lots (except the law school) and then you can park. If you want to drive, take afternoon or night classes and save yourself a headache. Also, the parking pass is not included in your tuition rate and a U pass is a good $200 or more for the year. There are pay lots, but they cost $2 an hour and don’t become free until 8 p.m. The max is $20, which adds up to 10 hours of parking. If you get caught somewhere you didn’t pay to park, the cost of a parking ticket is usually $30. Additionally, watch for walkway spots in the pay lots. They don’t go anywhere and they look like parking spots, but you will still get ticketed.
Basically, if you are trying to get on campus via a vehicle with an exhaust pipe, you are going to walk at least a little bit. The center of campus is like an impenetrable Bermuda Triangle of cold and stairs where buses, trains and cars dare not tread. It is also where all of your classes are located, so that’s convenient.
If you are unlike me and the cold is only mildly irritating, there are alternate travel options as well.
Bikes and Scooters
These are a great way to get around campus quickly, so at least you will only be cold for a short amount of time. You can also take your bike on TRAX or attach it to the front of UTA buses. You cannot take a bike on campus shuttles, and they do enforce that rule. If you do choose to bike, be sure to get a good lock and tie your front tire as well as your frame. All over campus, you will see the chilling remnants of cut locks or pieces of bikes lost to thieves. Cars have been broken into in the stadium and engineering lots, but bike theft is far more common.
Honestly, if you want a quicker way to get around campus, this is your best option in my opinion. Unlike bikes, skateboards are allowed on all trains and buses and in most of the buildings. They are less likely to get stolen and even the Student Life Center, which doesn’t allow boards inside, has special storage racks for skateboards that can be locked. The problem is the pesky hill you will have to go back up, unless you are savvy enough to plan your day so that your classes move down campus as the day goes on.
This is the coldest and slowest way to get around campus, but it is also the most reliable. You will get where you are going, and if you are good at planning, you will get there on time. It can also be aesthetically pleasing, and you can catch up on your podcasts or the latest single. If you have the opportunity walk by Library Plaza — especially at the beginning and end of the semester — they often have free giveaways like food and hot cocoa.
In the end, the U is a big place and getting around is not easy. They do try to make it easier, and there are always promotions and events like bike tuning during Earth Week. You can certainly get your exercise here, even if you don’t go to the lovely Life Center ever (or if you just go to get their crepes). Enjoy the cold months ahead and bundle up.