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Utah on record pace for most auto-pedestrian deaths ever


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SALT LAKE CITY — This year, Utah is on pace for a record number of fatal auto-pedestrian crashes. Eleven people died in March alone when they were hit and killed by cars.

In Salt Lake City, a citizens' group is pushing for improvements to save lives.

"We're seeing too many deaths that relate to vehicular crashes," said Levi Thatcher.

Thatcher wants to see safer streets for pedestrians in his neighborhood. He's also a board member of Sweet Streets, a citizens' movement pushing to improve safety for people on foot or on bikes.

Speeding in neighborhoods is a top complaint to the city transportation department and community councils.

"People are saying cars are speeding too fast in our neighborhoods," he said. "Our kids don't feel safe."

Sweet Streets wants the city and the Utah Department of Transportation to collaborate to make walking safer.

So far this year in Salt Lake City, there have been six fatal auto-pedestrian crashes and five with serious injuries. Statewide this year, there are already 20 auto-pedestrian fatalities. That's twice as many fatalities as 2019, before the pandemic.

"This year alone, we've had more pedestrians killed than any other year in recent memory," said John Gleason, a UDOT spokesman. "That's a wake-up call. We have to figure out why it's happening and what we can do to help make sure that it doesn't continue to happen."

Distracted drivers and distracted pedestrians is one theory for the rise in auto-pedestrian fatalities, which is a national problem, too.

UDOT plans to intensify public education through Zero Fatalities.

"To make sure that everyone understands their responsibilities that we have both as drivers, and as pedestrians or bicyclists, to watch out for each other," Gleason said.

Sweet Streets wants to see neighborhood speed limits reduced from 25 to 20 miles per hour. The group believes "20 is Plenty," which is the name of its campaign.

The group is also advocating for more pedestrian-activated crosswalks, which UDOT and Salt Lake City have already installed on some streets with few traffic lights.

"Each individual has responsibility, for sure," Thatcher said. "But, the city needs to help nudge everybody to be a little bit safer through lower speed limits, safer crossings, more safe crossings, and really just an investment of dollars to make these roads more focused on the individual and not just cars."

Sweet Streets recently met with the City Council and city transportation leaders, and they are receptive. But the state owns main arteries like Foothill Drive, State Street, and 700 East, so broader collaboration would help when it comes to implementing solutions.

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Jed Boal

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