SALT LAKE CITY — A first-year city councilman is asking Mayor Ralph Becker and city transportation officials to abandon plans to test lane reductions on Sunnyside Avenue, saying the proposal has created "unnecessary controversy."
In a letter sent to Becker last week, Salt Lake City Councilman Charlie Luke cautions that proceeding with the planned six-week "road diet" between Guardsman Way and Foothill Drive "has the potential of hindering community support for many other 'Complete Streets' concepts that could also work on Sunnyside."
The letter is signed by Luke and fellow councilmen Soren Simonsen, Carlton Christensen and Kyle LaMalfa — representing a majority of the seven-member City Council.
Later this month or in early March, city transportation officials plan to temporarily reduce the number of travel lanes on a 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.
Depending on data collected, the testing phase could be modified in April to include one eastbound lane being converted into a bike lane.
The project is part of the 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.
Transportation consultants Fehr & Peers recommended that Salt Lake City use a resurfacing project already scheduled for this summer to determine whether reducing lanes for motorists would work on Sunnyside Avenue.
Luke says 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.
Luke favors an option that would maintain two travel lanes in each direction and still move forward with Complete Street 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 the consultants as an option in the event the road diet didn't work for Sunnyside Avenue.
"This will accomplish many of the Complete Streets goals without unnecessarily eliminating traffic lanes," Luke states in the letter. "It will also allow the community to focus on its common goals of better livability instead of the primary point of disagreement, which is lane elimination."
Becker spokesman Art Raymond says the mayor "remains supportive of the test" and believes it's "the best way to evaluate traffic calming strategies on Sunnyside Avenue."
Stopping the test, Raymond said, essentially would "undo several years of public process" and go against traffic calming strategies already approved by the City Council.
The test also will allow the city to determine whether a lane reduction addresses concerns about Sunnyside Avenue expressed during a workshop in March, he said.
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.
"For every resident who may voice a concern about a change in traffic flow, there is a resident who can tell horror stories about near misses and accidents because of the high-speed traffic in that area," Raymond said.
Councilman Luke Garrott, who represents the area just downhill and west of the proposed testing area, is a strong supporter of the Complete Streets concept. In his weekly newsletter to constituents Friday, Garrott encouraged residents to support the test.
"Sometimes three lanes are better than four," he said. "We have a test on Sunnyside, so let's collect some data and see."
Arguments about "efficiency of car flow" shouldn't drown out those of other values such as safety, inclusiveness and sustainability, Garrott said.
"To focus on moving cars through the city with the most efficiency is tone deaf and blind to significant other values that are important to the vast majority of our (residents)," he said. "In response to these (residents') preferences, we at the city have a standing policy of Complete Streets. That means we resolve to move people, not just cars."