At its regular June 8 meeting, Moab City Council discussed municipal speed limits, matching funding for a Recreational Hotspot pilot transit project, and allowing e-bikes on paved city pathways.

Speed limits

City Engineer Chuck Williams presented to the council an analysis of the city’s speed limit rules and offered a selection of alternative actions the city could take to make changes. He noted that the city has no jurisdiction over Highway 191, which is also Moab’s Main Street—that highway is owned and administered by the Utah Department of Transportation.

Williams explained that the city’s “prima facie” speed limit, which is the default speed limit if there are no posted signs, is 30 mph. In contrast, the state of Utah suggests a prima facie of 25 mph for communities like Moab.

The first action alternative, he said, would be for the city to make no changes—to leave all speed limits in place as they are and install no new signs. The next alternative would be to change the prima facie speed limit to 25 mph. The third alternative, which Williams referred to as the composite plan, would lower the prima facie to 25 mph and install signs at key points stating that the city speed limit is 25 mph unless otherwise posted. At select locations, residential street speed limits would be reduced to 20 mph, and on “mobility-prioritized” streets like 500 West, the speed limit would be posted as 30 mph. Williams recommended the city pursue this composite alternative.

The final alternative proposed was to add signs at each point where the speed limit changes. The cost of the alternatives range from $0 to $67,000; the recommended alternative is estimated to cost about $13,200.

Councilmember Mike Duncan questioned the need for any action, calling the alternatives “a solution in search of a problem” and guessing that few constituents are very concerned about the speed limits.

Councilmember Rani Derasary said she’s heard concerns about speed limits within the city from multiple constituents. She pointed out that there are multiple city streets with no speed limit signs, creating inconsistency and confusion. She added that since the city implemented a 15 mph speed limit for OHVs, streets with no speed limit signs are vulnerable to drawing OHVs wishing to go faster than 15 mph. Derasary also noted that sometimes the differences in speed limits on certain blocks aren’t practical. She emphasized the need for increased safety and traffic calming.

Councilmembers agreed to discuss the matter two meetings from the June 8 meeting, allowing for residents to comment.

Pilot transit program

Moab City and Grand County have been working for several years to devise transportation projects eligible for state-granted Recreation Hotspot funding. One project up for consideration is a five-year pilot program for a public transit system. If the project is approved, the Utah Transportation Commission would fund $1.5 million, and local entities would be expected to come up with about $1 million more. Some of that funding is likely to be available through grants from the Federal Transit Authority, which can fund up to 50% of the program costs—leaving a price tag of about $500,000 for local entities to cover.

Grand County has agreed to commit to $250,000, and the city council considered whether it was willing to commit to the remaining costs.

Deputy City Manager Carly Castle described the deal as “getting five years for one year of investment.”

Some council members noted that the program as proposed appears to serve mainly visitors, and they hope it will evolve to be more useful to locals.

“I am hopeful… that this will encompass our densest population centers and it will service our local employers that are not hotels—that it doesn’t just become the bar-hopping bus,” said Councilmember Tawny Knuteson-Boyd.

Knuteson-Boyd expressed opposition to using property tax funds for the program.

“I’m reluctant to saddle our current residents with that kind of a debt that on its face,” said Knuteson-Boyd, adding the project “looks like it just services Main Street and very little else.”

The resolution to commit to fund a portion of the pilot transit program, should it be approved by the Utah Transportation Commission, was approved unanimously.

E-bikes

The city council continued an ongoing discussion of e-bikes, following the Grand County Commission’s passage of a resolution approving the use of e-bikes on the county’s paved pathways north of town at its meeting last week. (The county’s resolution does not automatically permit e-bikes; there are more processes ahead to implement new regulations.)

City Attorney Laurie Simonson gave a presentation on a proposed ordinance allowing Class I e-bikes on city path systems, and codifying a 15 mph speed limit on the pathway. A Class I bike provides assistance only when the rider is pedalling, and only up to a speed of 20 mph.

“This doesn’t affect mountain bike trails,” Simonson emphasized. “This is for city path systems, not mountain bike trails.”

Enforcement of the class of e-bike on the pathway could prove difficult.

“These days e-bikes are almost indistinguishable from a regular bike,” Simonson noted, displaying images to demonstrate the point. She noted that Utah law does require bikes to be labeled with their class on the frame of the bike.

Simonson said the city had received some comments from residents about the speed at which e-bikes can travel, and how that may create user conflicts on the pathway. Simonson noted that some of the user groups already permitted on the pathway already have the ability to go faster than the 15 mph speed limit and may be creating speed-based user conflicts, and the allowance of e-bikes would not necessarily change the frequency of such conflicts.

“That is a speed problem, not necessarily a device problem,” said Simonson.

Derasary noted that allowing e-bikes on the pathway might constitute a change in use as defined by a rule passed by the city last year, under which the city is required to conduct a public process before changing the use of one of its properties. The rule was prompted by the construction of the Robin Groff Memorial Bike Skills Park along the Mill Creek Parkway, which took some residents by surprise and sparked tense controversy.

Simonson pointed out that the issue had already been discussed at multiple public meetings.

The ordinance passed 3-1. Councilmember Karen Guzman-Newton recused herself, as she is part-owner of a local bike shop, and Derasary voted in opposition, citing a desire for more public involvement before making a decision on the issue.