“Road diet” is not in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Don’t look for it on Sunnyside Avenue, either.
But the road salt may be settling along the east Salt Lake City arterial after last winter’s kerfuffle when Mayor Ralph Becker proposed that Sunnyside Avenue be reduced — during a temporary test — to one lane of auto traffic in each direction.
The so-called “road diet” would give planners a chance to see how well traffic flowed under the scenario guided by the city’s “Complete Streets” philosophy. That credo, adopted unanimously by the City Council, embraces bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly roadways and seeks to make streets safer and quieter.
But many commuters and east-siders rebelled at the diet plan, and four council members — Charlie Luke, Soren Simonsen, Carlton Christensen and Kyle LaMalfa — penned a Feb. 8 letter to the mayor that hinted they would slam the brakes on the test diet if he moved forward.
In a Feb. 14 response, Becker reiterated the need for a test.
But nine months later, little seems to have changed, and Sunnyside Avenue remains in dire need of repaving. Luke, who led the charge against the test diet, lamented that “Sunnyside desperately needs help.”
There was one new development last week: The mayor officially hoisted the white flag, saying the road diet is off for Sunnyside.
In his regular newsletter to constituents, Luke, whose District 6 encompasses Sunnyside Avenue, quoted the mayor: “At this time, we are not pursuing the testing of a road diet on Sunnyside; we are, however, continuing to analyze every available option to calm traffic, improve crossings, accommodate bikes, improve pedestrian connections and create a more complete street.”
But there is no specific plan in place or a proposed time frame, according to Becker spokesman Art Raymond, who laid the lack of progress in Luke’s lap.
“The council’s decision [to stop the road diet test] hobbled us in making a good decision in terms of lane resolution,” Raymond said. “Now we don’t know what will work.”
Raymond pointed to lane reductions on 1300 East as an example of a street where lanes were reduced, traffic speeds slowed and noise levels dropped.
“When you look at 1300 East, we are essentially moving the same number of cars,” he said. “The residents are happy and their neighborhood is more livable.”
In an interview, however, Luke pooh-poohed the road-diet test as a bad idea for one of Salt Lake City’s few east-west arterials.
“Instead of testing something we shouldn’t be focusing on,” he said, “we could be creating a ‘complete street’ while maintaining [four] traffic lanes.”
Luke cited a report the city commissioned from consultant Fehr & Peers that outlined several options for Sunnyside. He noted that one alternative would replace the center lane with raised medians and vegetation. It also would widen bike lanes. But it would retain all four traffic lanes.
On Thursday, Becker noted that modifying streets is almost always controversial.
“I don’t think we’ve ever made changes to a street where people haven’t raised concerns and objections,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we move away from implementing the policy outlined in Complete Streets.”