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Should the streets of Salt Lake have a 20 mph speed limit? The city is studying a “bold” plan

A “20 Is Plenty” lawn sign designed by the Sweet Streets group. The group handed out lawn signs at an event on May 26, 2021. Salt Lake City’s transportation division was given the go-ahead to seek a speed limit change at a meeting on Tuesday. (Jed Boal, KSL-TV)

Estimated reading time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — The default street speed in Salt Lake City neighborhoods is about to be reduced.

The Salt Lake City Council, through a unanimous poll, gave its transportation division the go-ahead to pursue a proposal to lower the city’s default speed limit from 25 mph to 20 mph. If approved in the future, it would apply to all streets in the city, unless otherwise specified.

But even transportation experts who support the idea say lowering the speed limit will likely require future investment to reshape streets.

“(A 20mph speed limit) would be a bold statement, but what would really make a difference…is to back that up with long-term changes in street design,” said Jon Larsen, divisional director of Salt Lake City transportation.

Council’s decision to ask the division to investigate the matter further came after three members of the nonprofit Sweet Streets gave a presentation on the benefits of lowering the city’s default speed limit in 5 mph during the council business meeting on Thursday.

The volunteer organization began promoting a “20 is Plenty” initiative last year with the goal of reducing vehicle speeds in Salt Lake City‘s residential neighborhoods. Taylor Anderson, co-founder of the group, told the council that safety is the top priority, which is why 20mph has been generally used in other parts of the world.

When a vehicle reduces its speed from 30 mph to 20 mph, the chance of a person hit by a vehicle on a street surviving increases from 60% to 90%, according to the Utah Department of Transportation. And these are just dead. Anderson said people’s lives can be “permanently impaired” even if they survive these types of crashes.

“It’s so important to get those speeds closer to 20 mph. … There are significant safety impacts immediately without redesigning the street just by changing the posted speed,” he said during the presentation.

Since road safety is often years behind schedule, organization began tracking ‘traffic violence’ in Salt Lake City as of the end of 2020. This is a database of different automotive-related incidents reported by the media, such as times when people were hit by cars and speeding-related accidents.


We are asking for a paradigm shift. The way we set speeds in the city right now puts the speed of cars first, rather than the safety of people interacting with the street.

–Taylor Anderson, co-founder of Sweet Streets


They have found more than a dozen dead in the city and a handful more injured since December 2020 – and that’s only according to local media reports. The total number of injuries is likely much higher.

Overall, Anderson said people of color, children, the elderly and vulnerable populations are disproportionately affected. He concluded his presentation by asking council to think about people more than the speed of cars when setting streets and speed limits.

“We are asking for a paradigm shift,” he said. “The way we set speeds in the city at the moment, it prioritizes the speed of cars, rather than the safety of people interacting with the street. By making this change, you have the opportunity to change that .”

It should be noted that the city has started reducing speed on some streets to 20 mph. These include parts of West Temple and 1300 South. Other streets, like 400 southwest of I-15 and 900 west, may also soon be added to the list.

The default limit is not universal, however, which Sweet Streets claims.

“There’s a kind of 1900s politics that we’re slowly moving away from as an industry,” Larsen said. “We don’t try to do everything at once, but just assess where appropriate.”

While supportive of the concept his division is already considering, Larsen doesn’t think a lower speed limit alone will make much of a difference. He sees the speed limit as a “symbolic” measure and less as an incentive for drivers to slow down.

However, he said it could be a good conversation starter for other tactics to make streets safer in neighborhoods, including finding ways to disrupt street design that is more “human-centric.” “as they were before motor vehicles. Once the streets are different enough, he said drivers will be encouraged to drive slower.

Anderson agrees. He thinks that street design, such as street width, lanes and speed bumps, all contribute to influencing driving speeds more than speed limits, but a reduction in limits defines at least an expectation. The organization even held a march last week, which ended with the delivery of a petition to Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall calling for an overhaul of 200 South to include bus-only lanes.

Regarding the 20mph proposal, some council members said there needed to be community buy-in and awareness for any changes. For example, Councilwoman Victoria Petro-Eschler expressed concern that people may end up getting more speeding tickets because they are unaware of a new speed limit.

The idea also has the “full support” of members like Councilor Ana Valdemoros.

“I have too many constituents telling me tragic stories and how they would benefit,” she said.

No deadline has been set for the Transportation Division to investigate the matter. If the division recommends a change, the board will have the final say before it is implemented.

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Mary Cashion

The author Mary Cashion