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Utah 'distracted walking' ordinance is working, UTA says

Published April 14, 2012 10:21 pm

Transit • Safety effort includes education and enforcement.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah Transit Authority officials say the agency's new ordinance to punish "distracted walking" around trains appears to be working — but they also stress that they are doing more than just threatening fines to improve safety.

"We are doing our part, too," with better education and engineering, UTA General Manager Mike Allegra told his board on Wednesday.

But he added that enforcement is important. That is why the UTA persuaded its board last month to pass an ordinance to create a $50 civil fine for distracted walking around UTA rail lines, and repeat offenses could cost $100.

The new ordinance says examples of walking while distracted include — but are not limited to — talking on cellphones, listening to music with headphones, texting, "attending to personal hygiene" or reading newspapers or magazines while crossing tracks.

"Anecdotally, it has changed the way people behave, and they are doing it the right way more often," Allegra said.

UTA Chief Safety Officer Dave Goeres said in a letter to the board that while the ordinance is "controversial, we are counting on the discussion in the traditional and social media to bring the problems of this type of behavior to the forefront and have the public begin to modify its behavior."

He also outlined for the board many safety enhancements the agency has taken during the past nine months after coming under fire for having a high rate of accidents with pedestrians and cars. UTA created a stand-alone Safety Department to start making such changes.

Goeres noted UTA modified pedestrian crossings on the new red line at 2200 West, 2700 West and 3200 West, including replacing sound walls that blocked pedestrian views of trains (and may have contributed to one fatality) and adding pedestrian swing gates and extra signs. He said UTA is looking to make such changes throughout its system. It also plans to add tactile tile across sidewalks before tracks and signs that say "stop and look" at all busy crossings.

The agency also changed the timing of some intersections where cars sometimes drove around gates because of long waits, such as at 5900 South and 6100 South on the blue line.

He said UTA is also testing bells on trains, including their volume and placement, to adequately warn pedestrians but reduce noise for neighbors.