Champaign reduces speed limit to 20 mph in University district

By Danielle Gaines

University police continue to focus their efforts on enforcement of pedestrian traffic laws. More than 350 traffic warnings and 15 tickets have been issued to pedestrians and drivers since increased enforcement began Oct. 8, said Lt. Vernon G. Frost.

Frost presented this information at the meeting of the Technical Committee of the Champaign Urbana Urbanized Area Transportation Study.

The Technical Committee has met weekly to investigate campus traffic safety since the death of Sarah Channick on Sept. 29.

A Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District bus hit Channick while she was crossing at Sixth and Chalmers streets.

The warning tickets have been issued as part of an education campaign, and each pedestrian issued a warning also was given a handout of the state pedestrian traffic laws.

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“Once we feel we have done enough education, we will begin to issue citations,” Frost said. “The education campaign will continue for approximately two more weeks.”

Frost also said that tickets are already being issued to pedestrians who are inherently dangerous or are in blatant violation of traffic laws.

State law requires that pedestrians be established in the crosswalk before a vehicle to have right of way. Pedestrians should give themselves several car lengths of distance before entering a crosswalk, and a vehicle traveling the legal speed limit does not have to slow or stop for a crosswalk, Frost said.

“This is a very intimidating town for pedestrians,” said Scott Paluska, University professor in the College of Medicine. “I have been in five college towns, and we are below par in terms of safety. We need to look at traffic safety through the responsibility of drivers and of pedestrians.”

The committee voted unanimously to reduce all speed limits posted at 25 mph in the University District to 20 mph.

This vote means that a recommendation will be presented to the Champaign City Council at their Nov. 1 meeting. A 10-day waiting period for action will be waived to allow immediate changes.

The city of Urbana also has approved the lowered speed limit through administrative action that allows changes to begin prior to approval by the Urbana City Council.

The cities and the University expect new 20 mph traffic signs to be posted on Nov. 2.

Several solutions to reduce the number of accidents between pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles on campus were discussed including changes to the MTD’s service. A map outlining all turns made by MTD buses was presented. The two bus-related pedestrian deaths have occurred while buses were in turning movements.

“Eliminating buses will not solve the problem,” said Cynthia Hoyle, a consultant to the MTD. “There is a bigger issue here, and that is pedestrian safety. This will require a three prong approach: education, engineering and enforcement.”

Several education initiatives have been proposed including public service announcements, student pedestrian patrol and increased education at new student orientation.

“It is important that students help each other to be safer,” said Nina Gazanfari, sophomore in LAS who is serving on the committee. “If we can reach more students, through programs like orientation, it will help. Even if it saves just one life.”

The committee was charged to create a list of immediate and long-term changes to campus traffic safety and will report their final recommendations in two weeks. A subcommittee will meet Monday to prioritize all recommendations made by the technical committee thus far.

The next meeting of the Technical Committee will be Oct. 25 at 3:30 p.m. at the Illinois Terminal.