Thursday, 27 July 2017 23:04

Two versions of traffic calming installed on the west side

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By Sarah Morton Taggart

Speeding and inattentive driving are deadly problems that ramp up during the summertime throughout Utah. Two new projects on the west side aim to calm traffic and help make the roads safer for everyone.

Perhaps most controversial is the lane reconfiguration on 900 West between North Temple and 1700 South that began construction in late June. Similar to a recent restructuring on California Avenue, the street will be reduced to one vehicle lane in each direction with a turning lane in the middle and bike lanes on either side. Other safety features include upgrading some curb ramps and adding flashing lights to alert drivers to pedestrians at 700 South and Genesee Avenue.

As someone who has spent several years walking, biking, and driving on this street, I can see pros and cons to the proposed changes. I think many people have felt the frustration of being stuck behind a slow-moving vehicle and wishing there was a passing lane available. My first thought when I heard about the plan was that it seems silly to reduce the street from two lanes to one, and others agreed.

One resident created a petition on Change.org that currently has 189 supporters. Some of the reasons given for signing include perceived increased congestion on California Avenue and speculation that the changes won’t result in increased bicycle safety and use.

Keith Jensen points out in the comments section for the Change.org petition that 900 West and Redwood Road are the only contiguous streets that run north-south through Glendale.

“There is significant commercial traffic that already causes congestion...This change will encourage more traffic on the minor residential streets,” he said. “There are already times when I have to wait multiple cycles to make a left-hand turn from 900 West to 1700 South.”

Residents are also frustrated that there wasn’t enough of a public process to take into account the opinions of those to be most affected by the change.

According to Matthew Rojas, Director of Communications for the Office of the Mayor, community outreach for the project began in Fall 2016 and included six community council meetings, divided between Glendale and Poplar Grove, where staff presented details of the project and answered questions from the public. Mailings were also sent to all residents and business owners along 900 West from North Temple to 1700 South to inform them of the project.

According to Salt Lake City’s Department of Transportation, similar changes on California Ave between Redwood Road and 700 West resulted in a 24 percent reduction in crashes while the percentage of injuries on that stretch of road decreased by 29 percent.

Many cyclists also use 900 West. The way the road is currently configured, a cyclist either has to ride in the road with the cars, endangering themselves, or ride on the sidewalk, which endangers pedestrians. Adding bike lanes will help keep everyone safe.

It’s interesting to note that a similar road reconfiguration was proposed on 2100 South between 1700 East and 2300 East, but was abandoned due to public outcry. Residents were given a chance to fill out an online city survey, an option not given for the 900 West project.

The total cost for all of the pedestrian, auto, and bike components for the eighteen-block stretch of road is approximately $2.3 million.

The other traffic calming feature new to the west side is smaller, cheaper, and more grass-roots.

Paint the Pavement was first suggested by a Rose Park resident who wondered if painting a mural on the street would encourage drivers to slow down and pay more attention to their surroundings.

This idea, while approved by the City Council in 2012, had never been done before in Utah. But similar projects have been done in Seattle; Portland, Oregon; and Boulder, Colorado. What makes the Rose Park project different is that the University of Utah’s department of City and Metropolitan Planning is working with the Rose Park Community Council to study whether or not the painted pavement is actually reducing vehicle speeds and resulting in fewer accidents. The results from an initial study conducted a few weeks after the installation are still being analyzed and another study will likely take place in the fall.

One benefit from the project has already emerged: community building. Nearly two dozen residents showed up at the intersection of 800 North and American Beauty Drive on May 6th to create a work of art together.

The Rose Park Community Council spent nearly a year looking at the feasibility and demand for the project. Council members conducted two community workshops where they collected feedback from neighbors. They also knocked on hundreds of doors seeking support. Then, two local artists sorted through the community design ideas to get inspiration for the final design. According to Brandon Dayton, one of the artists and a member of the council, “After much input and thought, it was decided that the mural should be of a multicolored rose that speaks of Rose Park as a vibrant and multicultural community.”

The entire project cost less than $800 to install and was largely supported by a grant from the Salt Lake City Arts Council and donated paint and tools. But there are some concerns about maintenance and the mural looking shabby in a year or two. There is hope that if the study shows real impact, then the council will be able to find funds for upkeep.

“We were out here yesterday prepping the area and people were blowing through the stop sign. They weren't even doing a rolling stop,” said Blake Perez, chair of the Rose Park Community Council, on the day the mural was painted. “Hopefully, this project might open people’s eyes a little bit, so they actually stop for second and look at what's going on.”

For more information about the 900 West lane reconfiguration, please go to the city’s website: http://www.slcgov.com/transportation/900West