Speed limits are changing on some streets in Moab following several months of discussion and study by city officials and a two-year campaign to curb noise from recreation vehicles.
Bright, flashing, impossible-to-miss new speed-limit signs have gone up around town on 500 West, 400 East, 300 South and the city portion on Mill Creek Drive, proclaiming new speed limits reduced by 5 mph on each of those streets.
But while the signs are visually “loud,” the process for lowering the limits was not, says one local watchdog of government transparency.
“Has anyone but me noticed how the city has quietly dropped the speed limit around town?” asked Mary Walker-Irvin on the “Citizens for Transparency in Local Government” Facebook page.
Another comment on the page seemed to accuse city staff of changing the limits without the direction of the city council. That comment has since been removed from the page.
“So much for transparency,” Walker-Irvin wrote.
If the speed-limit changes themselves went relatively unheralded — and possibly less than clearly directed by the city council — the discussions leading to those changes were not so quiet.
According to Moab City Manager David Everitt, the issue was discussed several times in public city council meetings. The last time it was discussed was in October when the council approved the purchase of the flashing speed limit signs and the radar speed signs. Once the installation of the signs occurred, the city posted information about the change on their Facebook page to remind the public that the change was underway. The speed limit on one street – 400 East – has not yet changed, but that is expected to occur in January.
An examination of city council minutes from the last two years shows quite a bit of discussion about speeds on city streets, beginning with citizen complaints about noise from ATVs and UTVs. Those complaints led, in addition to discussion in routine meetings, to special meetings of the city council and the creation of the “Throttle Down in Town” campaign.
After wrestling with the noise problem for several months throughout 2016, Moab City Mayor Dave Sakrison broached the idea of lowering speed limits in December of last year.
At first, the idea was to reduce limits for only ATVs and UTVs — the main culprits in crimes against street tranquility.
Last February city staff, primarily Moab City Community Services Director Amy Weiser and former interim Moab City Police Chief Steve Ross, proposed an ordinance to lower ATV and UTV speed limits to 15 mph.
The City Council held off on adopting the ordinance because of several concerns. The biggest of those was the concern that the city might be setting itself up for a lawsuit if it singled out one class of vehicle for speed reductions. After further study and research, Weiser and Ross came again to the city council in April, and said doing so would indeed be a bad idea. If the city was going to change speed limits on trouble streets, they said, it should really change them for all vehicles.
The conversation at that meeting ended without explicit direction from the council to change the speed limits, though there was interest from at least one council member to continue investigating it.
“By investigating ... I think we’re kind of at the point where, well, let’s just put the signs up and try it,” Weiser said. But that wasn’t necessarily her recommendation. Weiser recommended sticking with ordinances already on the books, and instead promoted focusing on education and public outreach, maybe even stepping up something like the “Throttle Down” campaign.
There is no indication of such an official action in city council minutes thereafter, which may have contributed to transparency concerns. The process of getting new speed-limit signs, though, was underway by July.
Moab City Communications Manager Lisa Church said it was not necessary for the council to take formal action or adopt an ordinance to change the speed limits.
“It’s my understanding that since the end result was simply a change in speed limit for several streets, no formal ordinance was required as city code already covers the city’s ability to set speed limits as it sees fit,” Church wrote in an email to The Times-Independent. “However, council members were directly involved in the decision and voiced their commitment to the plan.”
The city seemed to predict a bit of the outcry, however. At an April meeting, Weiser suggested an education effort to give a “heads up” about the coming changes.
“We might get more complaints about ‘Why did you do that’ than ‘It’s working,’” Weiser said, “but I think we’ll just have to see what kind of feedback we get.”
The feedback, at least on Facebook, is mostly good.
Despite any concern over transparency, however, most people seem in favor of the changes and willing to look over any irksome but comparatively insignificant inconvenience of having to go slower.
“That’s good,” wrote Mitch Kelling. “No one needs to be in that big of a hurry.”
In the four blocks of 300 South between Main Street and 400 East, (four-tenths of a mile as measured by Google Maps), the change from 25 mph to 20 mph means an increased travel time of 15 seconds (assuming the speed limit is observed).
It’s the price residents may have to pay to keep their streets more peaceful.
“You can’t have it both ways people!” Robert Buckingham wrote on Facebook. “Slower is better for everyone, give it a chance.”
Apart from noise, many people discerned benefits to pedestrian safety, something City Manager Everitt addressed during city council discussions.
“Reducing the speed by five miles per hour makes a big difference in terms of potential to pedestrians, and also can result in less injury if there is a pedestrian/auto impact. The goal is a safer city,” Everitt said.