Neighborhoods on Salt Lake City’s west side often find dark traces of car wheels on their asphalt.
These roadway reminders warn motorists, pedestrians and cyclists that their neighborhood streets are not always safe. Their roads often are relatively wide and rarely include speed bumps. These factors can lead to increased speeds in residential areas.
Now, some front yards sport yellow signs with quirky messages in an effort to get drivers to slow down to at least read what these placards are about.
“Slow down,” reads David Osokow’s park strip sign, depicting two women with walkers, “grandmas at play.” It’s an unorthodox, but sometimes effective, way of catching people’s attention in his Fairpark neighborhood.
“The reason I wanted it was because they’re kind of funny signs,” Osokow said. “But I have just anecdotally seen people slow down just to read the signs or kind of laugh at them.”
And, of course, hopefully heed the request.
Speeding is a great concern for Osokow, who notes that wide streets can entice motorists to go heavy on the gas pedal. He doesn’t believe that these signs alone solve the problem, “but if it slows just a few people down, it’s better than nothing.”
The driving force behind the signs is Salt Lake City’s first-year District 2 council member, Alejandro Puy. He came up with most of the messages, which include: “Drive like your grandpa,” “Bikes don’t have bumpers,” “We love our kids; please don’t speed,” “Traffic school is boring” and “This is a neighborhood, not a racetrack.”
Puy, who represents west-side areas like Poplar Grove and Glendale, has been paying out of his own pocket to print and distribute the signs to whoever asks for one by email or social media.
“Since the speeding issues are so big these last couple of years, and much worse on the west side, I decided to come up with some new messaging,” Puy said, “more edgy, I guess, more fun. But at the same time we try to capture the attention of the drivers.”
He printed 75 signs and his office has quickly run out of them. Though there is a preference for constituents in his District 2, he has also sent out a couple to other areas, where some of his social media followers live.
Infrastructure on the west side is not as good as in other areas of the city, Puy said, and there are more unsafe roads.
“Many neighbors would tell us that in many neighborhoods on the east side, there are lots of speed bumps and not that many on the west side,” he said. “I think there are probably three I know on the whole west side, or at least in my district, and I know of dozens, for example, in the Avenues.”
In the past, Puy pushed to install steel plates to prevent racing on some west-side streets and other efforts to make roads safer.
“It’s a big issue for the west side,” Puy said. “But I believe that we are moving in the right direction with the help and the support of the council members. We are putting more money than ever on this.”
As of now, besides planning to incorporate more sustainable and permanent solutions, the council is exploring remedies that may not last as long, but are cheaper and faster.
Instead of working on building speed bumps and other mitigation tools in whole neighborhoods, the city might start by working on selected streets, Puy said. There’s also a possibility to buy speed bumps that could be screwed into the pavement. This wouldn’t be a permanent solution, but it might provide some immediate relief.
Another small and temporary solution under study is distributing planters along wide roads, helping them look narrower and forcing drivers to pay better attention and slow down.
“I’m hoping that we can start seeing some tests of that later this year,” Puy said. “And hopefully next year, we’ll see a lot more of that.”
These measures, for now, might help ease the sense of danger neighbors like Osokow feel while walking and biking on the west side.
“The biggest thing I would like to see is faster timelines. When they actually do change the design of streets, these projects can take decades or a ton of time to plan and implement,” Osokow said. “I’d like to see quicker projects, get creative and kind of slow them down now.”
In the meantime, those yard signs keep popping up in front yards, bringing smiles to passersby and curious cautions to motorists. Other new messages are cooking in Puy’s mind as well. Watch out for a feature of famous west-side turkeys and peacocks.
Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.
Correction • Aug. 2, 9:50 a.m.: This story has been updated to correct a west-sider’s comments about the effects of wide streets on traffic speeds.