Restructuring of 1300 East will increase congestion

By By Jeffrey Jenkins

By Jeffrey Jenkins

A large portion of the U’s student body is made up of commuter students who utilize bikes, public transportation and personal vehicles.

Many students who commute via personal vehicles travel on 1300 East to get to campus and are aware how problematic it can be during peak traffic hours. For students who travel on 1300 East, imagine commuting to campus with fewer lanes, shorter lights and a reduction in the speed limit. These three “improvements” proposed by the Salt Lake City Council will make your commute even more difficult than it already is.

In the fall of 2007, the Utah Department of Transportation relinquished its jurisdictional authority over 1300 East to the Salt Lake City Council. Early in November 2008, District 4 of the Salt Lake City Council released findings from a study done by Utah State University on the traffic patterns of 1300 East. The official Road Safety Audit report has prompted the council to consider making several changes to the road.

Tim Harpst, director of transportation for Salt Lake City, said the changes are intended to “improve the condition for everyone.” Some of the suggestions would be welcome changes, while others would make commuting to work and school more difficult, and possibly limit freeway access.

Several of the positive safety improvements include replacing road signs that are missing and damaged, painting stop bars on side streets, and installing pedestrian-actuated flashing warning lights at several of the existing crosswalks. These improvements will increase driver awareness and the safety of pedestrians crossing 1300 East and help prevent tragic accidents involving pedestrians.

Although these improvements should be lauded, the other improvements proposed by the city council need to be prevented. It has been proposed that in order to improve the conditions for everyone, the speed limit will be reduced from 35 mph to 30 mph. In addition, the traffic signal time will also be reduced to compensate for the slower-moving traffic. To slow down and encumber 1300 East even more, it has been proposed that from 600 South to 1700 South, the usual four-lane portion of the road will be reduced to three lanes, in which the middle lane functions as a turning lane only.

By reducing the speed limit, shortening the duration of traffic lights and essentially removing two entire travel lanes, commute time and driver frustration will increase. A study done by the The Automobile Association Group’s Public Policy Unit released a study in March of 1995 citing “increasing levels of congestion” as playing a major role in “raising tempers among drivers.”

Harpst said 1300 East “will be a little bit slower but it will be a more orderly street.” The slow traffic and reduced lanes will lead to increased congestion which, studies have shown, increases road rage. The “more orderly street” desired by the city council will not come by the improvements proposed.

The city council has created a comments and suggestions feature on its Web site regarding the 1300 East initiative. Until the end of January, it will allow members of the community to post their comments and suggestions to be reviewed. Post your comments on the Web site and encourage the city council not to make changes that will only increase congestion and driver aggression. Although the changes are intended to increase pedestrian safety as well, the increase of driver aggression will mitigate any safety improvements gained in this regard.

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Jeffrey Jenkins