Salt Lake City Council lowers speed limit to 20 mph on 70% of city streets in unanimous vote

“We as a nation really have inherited generations of traffic engineering only focused on getting cars from point A to point B very quickly,” said one councilmember.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) A “20 Is Plenty” sign is placed on the lawn of a home near 300 E. 1800 South on Friday, June 4, 2021, as part of a new campaign by Sweet Streets Salt Lake City to get the city to lower its default speed limit.

Cars will be required to slow down in Salt Lake City’s neighborhoods after the City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to lower the speed limit on more than 420 miles of streets from 25 mph to 20.

“This alone won’t solve the issue of safety on the streets, but it’s a good first step,” said Salt Lake City Council Vice Chair Darin Mano, who also represents District 5.

The amendment to city code will apply only to city-owned streets where the speed limit is currently 25 mph — not to streets maintained by the Utah Department of Transportation or where the speed limit is higher than 25.

During Tuesday’s City Council meeting, two members of the city’s Transportation Division said that about 70% of the capital’s streets would be affected.

Referring to an investigation into the feasibility of the change that the division began in March, engineer Dan Bergenthal said they recommended that the speed limit be lowered to 20 mph on all local streets as well as on streets that don’t have speed limit signs.

He said the division recognized the benefits of lower speed limits, especially when it comes to injuries involving “vulnerable” users.

“Only about 4% of the crashes in our city involve bicycles and pedestrians, but they make up more than 46% of all the fatalities that we have here,” he said.

Chris Wharton, councilmember for District 3, said he’d like the city to see if it could change speed limit signs from 25 to 20 in such a way that it would cost less than $100,000, the original amount the division told the council, as well as consider whether to also lower the speed limit on streets where the limit is 35 mph to 30.

Sweet Streets Salt Lake City, an organization that advocates for safer streets in the capital’s neighborhoods, renewed its call for the city to implement a 20 mph speed limit on its streets after a string of crashes involving pedestrians last week.

At least five people were struck and killed by vehicles across the Wasatch Front, including three children.

On May 3, when three of those people were killed, Sweet Streets said that pedestrians being struck by cars is “one of the top public health issues in our city,” and that Mayor Erin Mendenhall and the SLC Transportation, Engineering, and Streets Divisions “have not been treating it that way.”

A petition that Sweet Streets launched as part of its campaign against the city’s “dangerously high” speed limits had been signed by more than 600 people as of Tuesday evening, said Taylor Anderson, a Sweet Streets board member and co-founder and former Salt Lake Tribune employee.

On Wednesday, Mendenhall said in an emailed statement that she was “elated” about the City Council’s decision to lower speed limits.

“Salt Lake City has long been a vehicle-first city, but as we grow and our population density increases — as more pedestrians walk and bike through our neighborhoods and on our streets — we need to evolve,” she said. “We must put the safety of pedestrians first.”

Last week, Mendenhall announced she’d be taking two immediate steps to combat pedestrian deaths.

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

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.

“I want Salt Lake City to be a leader in curbing these disturbing trends that we’re experiencing,” Mendenhall said.

So far this year, Salt Lake City has had 11 traffic-related fatalities and nine pedestrian fatalities.

“We as a nation really have inherited generations of traffic engineering only focused on getting cars from point A to point B very quickly and not focused on making the streets safe for all modes of transportation,” Mano said during the council meeting. “... That is regrettable and it’s a big hole that we have to dig ourselves out of.

“But I’m hopeful that this 20 mph speed limit will create additional safety quickly,” he continued.