Salt Lake City mayor, safety officials call for smarter driving

From right, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, UDOT executive director Carlos Braceras and Lt. Scott Smalley, Salt Lake City Police. Photo: Erin Mendenhall/Twitter

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, May 5, 2022 (Gephardt Daily) — If it feels like deadly auto-pedestrian accidents are on the rise, “it’s because they are,” Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall told listeners Thursday at a news conference.

“And not just in Salt Lake City, it’s throughout the state of Utah.”

Mendenhall said that in 2019 and 2020, the city had one fatal auto-pedestrian accident as of May 4, and it had three by the same date in 2021.

“We’re already up to nine in 2022,” she said. “That’s nine too many. As we talk about what we can do to make our streets safer for pedestrians and bikers, it’s important to be clear that not every crash is the same.”

Mendenhall said auto-pedestrian or auto-bicycle collisions tend to fall into three categories:

  • Those involving an impaired driver
  • Those with distracted drivers
  • Those involving careless pedestrians crossing against the light or between intersections

“The challenge that we face in each of these cases is complex, and so also must our approach be. Everyone deserves to be able to walk or bike through any city or neighborhood and enjoy the community without fear of being killed or injured by a moving vehicle.

“Salt Lake City, like cities across this nation, has long been a vehicle-first city. But as we grow and our population density increases as more pedestrians choose to walk or bike through our neighborhoods to get where they need to go, we need to evolve. We have to put the safety of our pedestrians first. We also need to better understand what’s happening.”

Mendenhall said she has worked $2 million for traffic-calming projects into her proposed budget, which she she hopes the City Council will approve.

“Today I’m announcing two steps that the city has taken to make Salt Lake City more safe for pedestrians and bikers,” she said. “First, Salt Lake City will become the first city in Utah to partner with UDOT Zero Fatalities educational program, which focuses on preventing drowsy, distracted and impaired driving. … We want Salt Lake City to be a leader in curbing these disturbing trends.”

Secondly, “Salt Lake City is going to create a new Safe Streets Task Force,” Mendenhall said. “This is a multi-departmental effort within city government that’ll bring our police department into cooperation with our transportation division, and they’ll identify the most critical areas in our city where intervention might be necessary to help us prevent future crashes and injuries and deaths.”

The task force will look into traffic patterns, crash trends, and what areas might need more pedestrian signage or warning lights, she said.

“That dataset will then inform recommendations for both immediate city actions and our long-term policies,” Mendenhall.

“We’re not going to be passive, passive observers and a trend that right now is taking the lives of our residents. It just can’t continue. … Each of us has a responsibility to commit every time that we get behind the wheel to the safety of those around us.”

Mendenhall asked listeners to commit now to not get behind the wheel when impaired, and commit to not looking at cellphones while driving.

“The lives of children, mothers, fathers, so many loved ones is depending on every one of us and the decisions we make when we’re behind the wheel.”

Carlos Braceras, executive director of the Utah Transit Authority, said the spate of recent accidents, killing a 13-year-old bicyclist, two 3-year-old boys, a 5-year-old girl, a pregnant mother, a 49-year-old bicyclist among others, were all preventable.

“When you look at what we see happening with fatalities around the state, we have a problem. We’re talking specifically about pedestrians and bicyclists, but the problem is even more widespread. As of yesterday, we had 105 fatalities this year across the state.”

On May 4, 2021, the total was 86. The year before, the number was 67, he said.

“This trend that we’ve seen over the last two years is not unique to Utah, Braceras said. “We’re seeing this happen across the country. And when it comes to pedestrians here in Utah. We’re nearly double where we were last year. … We need to care more about each other as people. And I know we’ve all been through a lot over the last two years. People seem to be more angry or frustrated. There seems to be more unknown in our lives. But whatever else is going on in your life, I asked you to do one thing. Those troubles in the backseat before you get behind the wheel of the car and focus on the road ahead.”

Major Jeff Nigbur, Utah Highway Patrol, said he is glad to partner with Salt Lake City on Zero Fatalities.

“We must do this as a team and that very, very much includes the public,” Nigbur said. “We’ve already been reacquainted with the tragic stories of individuals making poor decisions behind the wheel and the result of different walks of life.”


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