SALT LAKE CITY — A controversial lane-reduction test planned for Sunnyside Avenue has been put on hold while city leaders debate its necessity and merits.
Last week, four members of the Salt Lake City Council sent a letter to Mayor Ralph Becker requesting that the city abandon plans for a six-week "road diet" between Guardsman Way and Foothill Drive, saying the test was creating "unnecessary controversy."
On Tuesday, Becker agreed to delay the test "pending further council consideration and additional discussion." But he also noted that the council members' request represents "a significant departure from the city's current approach to redesigning streets using the Complete Streets philosophy."
City transportation officials planned to temporarily reduce the number of travel lanes on the stretch of Sunnyside Avenue 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 has been seen as an opportunity to advance the city's Complete Streets initiative to design and operate streets safely for all users — pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.
City officials planned to use a resurfacing project already scheduled for this summer to determine whether reducing lanes for motorists would work on Sunnyside Avenue. That resurfacing project also has been delayed, pending further discussion, Becker said.
Charlie Luke, the first-year councilman who spearheaded the effort to stop the test, said he appreciates Becker's willingness to delay the project and allow for additional discussion.
Luke said feedback he's received from residents who would be most impacted by the lane reduction has been "overwhelmingly negative," with many neighbors worried about traffic backing up along Sunnyside and spilling onto neighborhood streets.
"I don't view this as all or nothing," he said. "I think there are other ways we can accomplish the same objectives without unnecessarily hindering traffic flow."
Luke favors an option that would maintain two travel lanes in each direction and still move forward with Complete Streets concepts on Sunnyside Avenue by removing the center turn lane in some locations and replacing it with a narrow, landscaped median.
That plan was suggested by city consultants as an option in the event the road diet doesn't work for Sunnyside Avenue.
The Complete Streets project planned for Sunnyside Avenue stemmed from residents' concerns about speeding, noise levels and safety in the area.
Following what Becker said was a "lengthy public process," the City Council authorized a study of the corridor "that would slow traffic, create a welcoming environment for active transportation modes and lessen the division between the neighborhoods on the north and south sides of the street that result from a wide, high-speed road."
The six-week test was seen as a way to "understand the effects of a road diet on this neighborhood before this option (is) considered for implementation," Becker stated in his response.
"Given this test, planners and engineers would know better how to plan for auto, pedestrian and bicycle experiences on Sunnyside and throughout the neighborhood," he said.
Becker has asked the City Council to reconsider its "apparent change in policy direction" in an upcoming public meeting to clarify what it "intends with its Complete Streets ordinance and policy" and how it applies to Sunnyside Avenue.
Luke said that discussion likely will take place in March.