SALT LAKE CITY — Sunnyside Avenue is going on a diet, and several neighbors aren't happy about it.
City transportation officials plan to begin testing a "four-lane road diet" along Sunnyside Avenue between Guardsman Way and Foothill Drive later this month or in early March. The "diet" would reduce the number of travel lanes from five — two lanes in each direction and a median/turn lane — to four by converting one westbound lane into a bike lane.
The project is part of Salt Lake City's Complete Streets initiative, a citywide effort to design and operate streets safely for all users — pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.
The testing phase is expected to run for six weeks and, depending on data collected, could be modified in April to include one eastbound lane being converted into a bike lane.
Several residents who spoke at the Yalecrest Community Council meeting Wednesday night in the Carmen B. Pingree Center said the prospect of a three-lane street — one in each direction, with a median/turn lane — worries them.
"Where are all the cars going to go?" asked resident Rosemary Burbidge, adding that it appears to her the city is catering to bicyclists at the expense of everyone else.
Margaret Tennant said traffic already is backed up on Sunnyside Avenue on weekday mornings.
"If you put that down to one lane, I'm not going to be able to turn right onto Sunnyside from the neighborhood," Tennant said.
Robin Hutcheson, Salt Lake City's new transportation director, said the project has been designed to address concerns about the east-west corridor raised by residents during a workshop in March.
Residents at that meeting told city planners that Sunnyside is difficult to cross for several reasons, including a shortage of crosswalks, the width of the street and the speed limit. Other concerns included the safety of cyclists, who said the westbound bike lanes on Sunnyside aren't wide enough.
Hutcheson fielded dozens of questions from the 100-plus residents who attended Wednesday's meeting, the majority of which came from those opposed to the test. That said, a show of hands following Hutcheson's presentation showed a 50-50 split on those who want to stop the test and those who want the city to move forward.
"Feedback has been very mixed from the day we started this project," Hutcheson said.
Transportation consultants Fehr & Peers have recommended that the city use a resurfacing project already scheduled for this summer to determine whether reducing lanes for motorists would work on Sunnyside Avenue.
Hutcheson said information about traffic volume and travel times will be collected throughout the test, and that information will then be shared with the community.
But residents are concerned that changes implemented for testing purposes will remain permanent — no matter what the collected data say.
A successful test, Hutcheson said, would include the community being supportive of the project.
"The proposal is not to go out and permanently reduce lanes of traffic," she said. "That's not what we're talking about. What we're talking about is taking this study to the next level by testing it."
If the "road diet" doesn't work for Sunnyside Avenue, the consultants recommend the city pursue a "narrow median" concept, which would maintain two travel lanes in each direction but remove the center turn lane in some locations and replace it with a narrow, landscaped median.
That alignment would allow for 4- to 5-foot-wide bike lines in each direction, according to the consultants.
Whatever alignment the city ultimately supports, it would run from 900 East to Foothill Drive, including the section of 800 South between 900 East and 1300 East — before it becomes Sunnyside Avenue.
First-year Salt Lake City Councilman Charlie Luke attended Wednesday's meeting and said the feedback he has received about lane reductions on Sunnyside has been overwhelmingly negative.
"I am very supportive of a number of the Complete Street concepts that the council prior to me has discussed," Luke told Yalecrest residents. "But I think we can accomplish a lot of the same things without eliminating lanes."
A decision on how the street will be restriped is expected in late May.
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