Pedestrians first in new study

By Joe Parrino

The Urbana City Council adopted a transportation study Monday that prioritizes foot traffic above bus, bicycle and car movement throughout most of Campustown.

The Campus Area Transportation Study Phase II recommended such pedestrian-friendly changes as narrowing Green Street from four lanes to three, increasing the number of pinched intersections on Sixth Street, adding wide medians to high-speed corridors such as Goodwin Avenue and Fourth Street and upgrading traffic signals to be more accessible to those with hearing and visual disabilities.

The study was authorized in 2000 by the city councils of Urbana and Champaign, the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District and the University to follow up on the Campus Area Transportation Study Phase I, a study that was prompted by the 1996 death of a student crossing Green Street.

The study’s mission statement was, “to better accommodate pedestrian, bicycle, transit and vehicle movements in a more user friendly environment.”

Bill Gray, Urbana public works director, said the order in which transportation modes are listed is important.

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“Pedestrians’ needs come first in the scheme of Campustown traffic patterns,” Gray said.

The council listened to a presentation from Jerald Payonk, vice president of the Clark Dietz engineering firm that was contracted to do the second study. Payonk showed maps dividing the campus into three zones.

The innermost zone is roughly defined as streets near the main and south quads and is highly protective of pedestrians. Trimming Green Street down to three lanes, west of Wright Street will promote more foot traffic and separate through traffic from turning traffic, Payonk said. The middle lane would function as a two-way turning lane.

East of Wright Street, the study proposed to channel pedestrians crossing Green Street only at intersections with a traffic signal. Jaywalking or crossing at intersections without signals could be discouraged with high vegetative barriers, Payonk said.

Another prominent design in Zone 1 proposals was to shorten intersections. Crosswalks are shortened when four corners are pulled towards the center of the intersection and are called neck down intersections. Neck downs, similar to the current one at Sixth Street and John Street, would be duplicated along Sixth Street at intersections and mid-block points.

Neck downs really add to the aesthetic and safety of the streetscape, said Councilwoman Danielle Chynoweth (D-2), in support of the idea.

Because of the heavy foot traffic towards dorms, the study suggested placing 6-foot wide medians on Fourth Street and Goodwin Avenue. The extra-width of the median would provide enough refuge for those pushing strollers or bicycles, Payonk said.

Zone 2 covers the rest of Campustown with the exception of its peripheries. Proposed modifications aimed to mix pedestrian and vehicle movement more safely.

The accessibility of traffic signals to pedestrians with disabilities was listed as an important safety measure especially for intersections with high vehicle volume. Someone with a visual impairment follows the edge of a building until they get to the corner and presses the button for an audible signal, Payonk said.

“The CATS II proposals will make it easier to use this system as the buttons will be positioned more conveniently,” Payonk said mentioning that the Illinois Society for the Blind was consulted in the design.

Zone 3 includes the corridors along the campus periphery such as University Avenue, Florida Avenue, First Street and Lincoln Avenue. The study reserves these fringe areas for vehicle movement.

Proposals for Lincoln Avenue were particularly problematic because of the pedestrian traffic to west Urbana’s fraternities, sororities and other residences. The study recommended that sidewalks be widened and that stop signs at the Nevada Street and Pennsylvania Avenue intersections be replaced with traffic signals.

Chynoweth argued that Lincoln Avenue should be narrowed down to four lanes near its Green Street intersection.

“The traffic volume at that point dictates that there be five lanes,” Gray said.

However, the public works director did suggest that the pedestrian signals at the intersection could be replaced with newer ones that countdown the time left to cross.

Councilman Charlie Smyth (D-1) spoke out strongly against what he perceived as ignorance to the presence of bicyclists.

“With respect to bicycles, this plan falls flat everywhere,” said Smyth, one of several council members who bikes frequently.

He asked Payonk and Gray why there was no clear bikeway across campus.

“We only looked at bikeways along the corridors not at the bike trails on campus,” Payonk said.”

He also said bike trails could be the subject for another extensive study.

The study did provide for widening of the Wright Street bikeway from 6 to 10 feet. It also suggested the addition of bikeways on both Daniel Street and Mathews Avenue.

The study offered an implementation schedule and calculated a budget of $33.5 million to be borne by Urbana, Champaign and the University.

Yet both Payonk and Gray emphasized that the report was merely a policy guide for future transportation improvements, not a binding piece of legislation.

“Implementation is still along way off,” Payonk said.

The Urbana City Council adopted the report with an addendum listing the concerns expressed by council members.