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A slew of traffic-related deaths in Utah have advocates pushing for slower speeds

A stop sign and pedestrian crossing sign at the corner of 1000 E, 1700 S in Salt Lake City, May 4, 2022.
Caroline Ballard
A stop sign and pedestrian crossing sign at the corner of 1000 E, 1700 S in Salt Lake City, May 4, 2022.

It’s shaping up to be a dangerous and deadly year for pedestrians and cyclists along the Wasatch Front. Since January, the Utah Highway Patrol has reported 28 fatalities. Seven happened in the past week.

Ted Knowlton, deputy director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council, said typically, walking and bicycling haven’t been seen as serious forms of transportation.

“The industry has tended to historically treat it as an optional mode,” Knowlton said. “It's for exercise. So if you view that as an optional mode, then you're focusing on mobility and safety for cars, and you designed streets primarily for that function.”

That attitude is starting to change, he said, as people begin to view cycling and walking as a “legitimate, meaningful form of transportation.”

But some want to move the needle even faster.

Johnnae Nardone is a member of Sweet Streets, a Salt Lake City-based group advocating for roads that center people’s needs over cars. Her involvement in this issue is personal.

“I chose this neighborhood, I chose my employment, I chose my daycare all so that I could live a less car-dependent lifestyle,” she said. “I have an almost-two-year-old. I'm pregnant with my second [child], and I want to be able to move through my city and enjoy my city without fear.”

She views this as a “key moment” for the city to take action and said a good place to start is by lowering the speed limit to 20 miles per hour on most streets. The Salt Lake City Council is currently considering that proposal.

Salt Lake City’s transportation director, Jon Larsen, became emotional thinking about the recent traffic-related deaths. His own child was hit by a car in the past.

“Our [transportation] profession has just failed so epically,” he said. “A lot of it comes down to an unwillingness to inconvenience drivers in order to improve safety.”

One other barrier, Larsen said, is limited resources. He’s hopeful because Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall recommended funding in her recent budget proposal for measures to help slow down cars.

“I feel like the culture in the city has changed, and people are really ready to embrace this,” he said. “The biggest challenge is that there's still a lot of work to do. And we can't just fix it overnight, as bad as I want to.”

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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