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Salt Lake City vows to ‘be a leader’ in pedestrian safety in wake of deadly crashes

The city is creating a new task force and partnering with the Utah Department of Transportation to make roads safer.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Carlos M. Braceras, executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation, talks about the a recent increase in traffic deaths on Utah's roads, during a news conference in front of City Hall, on Thursday, May 5, 2022.

Salt Lake City announced a new partnership Thursday with the Utah Department of Transportation to combat pedestrian deaths after at least five people were struck and killed by vehicles across the Wasatch Front this week, including three children.

In the span of one hour on Tuesday, three people were hit and killed by vehicles in northern Utah — a 5-year-old girl in Sandy, a 23-year-old pregnant woman in Salt Lake City, and a 49-year-old bicyclist in Spanish Fork.

The hit-and-run crash that killed pregnant mother Libbie Isabel Allan also critically injured her young child. It marked Salt Lake City’s 11th traffic-related fatality and ninth pedestrian fatality so far this year.

Mayor announces two immediate steps

Mayor Erin Mendenhall expressed her condolences to the families of the victims in a news conference Thursday, in which she assured residents that she had already identified $2 million in traffic-calming projects to improve pedestrian safety in her recently recommended 2023 budget.

But the city has to do more, she said, so Mendenhall is taking two immediate steps to combat pedestrian deaths.

The first: a new “Safe Streets” task force, which will include city government, police and transportation officials to identify particularly dangerous roadways; the second: a partnership between the city and UDOT’s Zero Fatalities education program — the first of its kind in Utah.

“I want Salt Lake City to be a leader in curbing these disturbing trends that we’re experiencing,” Mendenhall said. “I’ve asked UDOT to work with our community councils to educate them on ‘Zero Fatalities’ outreach, and to encourage safe driving in our neighborhoods.”

The “Safe Streets” task force will investigate traffic patterns, crash trends and citation data to make recommendations for immediate actions and long-term policies — such as additional speed bumps, or lower speed limits.

Sweet Streets Salt Lake, an organization that advocates for safe mobility and people-first street planning, has called on the city to implement a 20 mph speed limit on most city-owned streets.

Mendenhall said it would be up to the task force to consider such a speed limit and determine where it would be most effective. Then, the task force could propose it to her, or the city council.

“So whether that’s city-wide, or strategically in certain streets in the city, this cross-department team will help us determine that,” Mendenhall said.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Crime scene investigators work the scene of fatal auto-pedestrian crash near the intersection of 900 E. 1700 South in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 3, 2022. A woman and her daughter were struck on a sidewalk when a car drove over a curb and hit them, police said.

Plans to bolster statewide DUI enforcement

The Utah Department of Transportation is currently working on over 800 projects to create safer roads throughout the state, director Carlos Braceras said, and the agency will now commit $4.2 million each year to improvements for pedestrian and biker safety.

The department also will provide a 50% increase to its “Safe Routes to School” program, which provides improvements along roadways where children frequently walk or bike to and from class. And the agency plans to engage with sobriety programs to better understand how they can reach — and prevent — people who may choose to drive under the influence.

“Let’s try to learn from them ... how could we have gotten to them when they weren’t sober, that might have made a difference — so we can help those that are experiencing difficulty in their life figure out how to be safe on the roadways,” Braceras said. “Because I guarantee you, people care about people.”

At least two drivers in the recent string of fatal crashes are suspected to have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the wrecks. One killed two 3-year-old boys in Utah County on Monday, when a driver plowed into a stable where the children were playing; the other killed Allan and critically wounded her daughter Tuesday when the driver hit a curb and struck them on a sidewalk.

Major Jeff Nigbur, assistant superintendent of the Utah Highway Patrol, said the state has investigated 22 confirmed cases of impaired driving — and 40 suspected cases — that resulted in fatalities so far this year. UHP is bolstering its DUI squads and putting a focus on DUI enforcement, he said.

“We absolutely have to stop these extreme driving behaviors,” Nigbur said. “It is critical for more Utahns to take this responsibility seriously, in order for everyone to arrive home safely.”

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