Advocates say SL streets need redesign, not just lower speeds

May 11, 2022, 5:24 PM | Updated: 8:38 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — In response to an unprecedented surge in auto-pedestrian fatalities, Salt Lake City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to lower the speed limit from 25 to 20 mph in residential neighborhoods.

Safety advocates who pushed for that change called it is a good first step.

A grassroots safety advocacy organization called Sweet Streets started the “20 is Plenty” movement a couple of years ago to lower the speed limit.

“We’ve had some victories. We’ve had some wins, and it has been awesome to be able to engage with the city,” said Alex Cragun, Sweet Streets Board Member.

Salt Lake City is following other cities like Portland and Seattle which have taken this step, as have several cities in Europe.

Cragun said studies have shown lower speed limits have made an impact in those communities, especially by slowing down the most egregious speeders. When a car hits a pedestrian, that makes a difference.

“The data clearly shows that the faster people are going, the higher the likelihood an individual is going to be injured or die due to the result of traffic violence,” Cragun said.

The change affects more than 400 miles of city-owned roadways, about 70% of city streets.

“Which is a great first step in a larger conversation,” the board member said. “There’s still a lot more work to be done.”

Salt Lake City Transportation Director Jon Larsen agreed.

“I think it’s a big step in the right direction,” he said. “It’s a bold statement, for Salt Lake City leadership to say neighborhood safety and livability is important.”

He said they also need to design streets to slow drivers down and protect pedestrians and cyclists.

A recent street redesign project on 900 East features protected bike lanes.

Elsewhere around the city, traffic calming projects that utilize narrower lanes, pedestrian-activated crosswalks, raised crosswalks, and roundabouts are already being implemented.

“If we don’t follow this up with actual changes to the streets, you’re not going to see a long-term change,” said Larsen.

The city is also revamping its Transportation Master Plan for the first time since 1996. That plan will include a greater focus on pedestrian and cyclist safety, as well as address transportation and safety inequalities that have impacted Westside neighborhoods.

“How do we heal that east-west divide, and make sure that we’re making investments so that everyone in the city, regardless of where you live, has access to opportunities that the city has to offer,” Larsen said.

He said it may take a couple of months before all of the new speed limit signs are in place. But, the ordinance itself will take effect pretty quickly.

Whenever you turn off of a main artery into a neighborhood in Salt Lake City, the speed limit is now 20 mph.

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Advocates say SL streets need redesign, not just lower speeds