An architectural/engineering firm from Raleigh, N.C., is being employed by the UI to assess pedestrian, mass transit, motor vehicle and bicycle traffic systems on campus and recommend how they could be configured to create a safer, pedestrian-friendly and healthy campus environment. The UI Board of Trustees authorized employing the firm of Martin/Alexiou/Bryson for $150,000 plus expenses of $5,000 when the board met April 11 at Urbana.
Urbana Chancellor Richard Herman requested that a consulting firm be engaged to develop strategies for reducing congestion and improving safety after a UI freshman was killed at the intersection of Sixth and Chalmers streets Sept. 29. UI officials later suspended plans to build a parking structure at that corner because of concerns that it would increase traffic congestion and decrease pedestrian safety.
“We’re looking specifically at determining what we want our campus environment to be like,” said Pam Voitik, director of campus services. “We want to make it a safe and pedestrian-friendly environment, and we want to identify where we need to spend the effort to do that.”
During the study, which will probably take a year, the firm will review previous traffic-safety studies, such as reports from the first and second phases of the Campus Area Transportation Study, a multi-jurisdictional coalition that includes officials from the cities of Champaign and Urbana, the UI and the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District. The firm also will review the comprehensive analysis of campus crosswalks that is being conducted by Rahim Benekohal, a professor of engineering and member of the CATS Technical Advisory Committee.
Benekohal, who conducted online surveys of members of the campus community last fall and had hoped to get at least 2,500 responses, wound up getting 7,500 responses from pedestrians and 6,600 from motorists, Voitik said. Benekohal will report his findings by the end of June.
UI officials will share the results of the intermodal transportation study with local elected officials and the CATS Technical Advisory Committee as they collaborate on developing traffic, transportation and parking plans for the campus area, including updating the Campus Parking Master Plan, which was last revised in 2001.
At the April 4 “Know Your University” forum at the University YMCA, Bruce Knight, planning director for the city of Champaign, spoke about campus safety and said the city plans redesigns for almost all core streets in the University District as recommended in the second-phase CATS report. “We will, over time, completely rebuild all those streets in those configurations but it’s expensive and it’ll have to be programmed over time,” Knight said. “What we’re looking to do in the meantime is to have interim solutions like we did with Green Street west of Fourth Street, where we striped it as a three-lane configuration even though we didn’t rebuild it.”
Voitik, Gale Jamison, an assistant city engineer with the city of Urbana, and Bill Volk, managing director of the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District, also spoke at the forum.
If it can come up with the money, the city of Champaign plans to narrow the driving lanes on Fourth Street and install raised medians to make it safer for pedestrians to cross.
This summer, Urbana will narrow Lincoln Avenue to three lanes with a bi-directional left turn lane between Illinois and Pennsylvania avenues, upgrade street lighting to improve visibility at crosswalks, and install signals at the Pennsylvania Avenue and Nevada Street intersections.
MTD officials are studying several bus stops, including stops near the Illini Union on Green Street and on Gregory Drive near the Library, where pedestrians tend to cross in front of stopped buses and risk being struck by passing vehicles, Volk said.
The MTD is considering periodically changing the audible signals that alert pedestrians that buses are about to make right turns so people don’t become accustomed to the sounds and ignore them.
A cross-campus committee that is revising safety-awareness training for student orientation is planning a comprehensive video that will address all aspects of personal safety, including pedestrian safety, and could become required viewing for students during their first few days on campus, beginning this fall. In a survey of 400 randomly selected students conducted in March, equal numbers of respondents indicated that it would be effective to get safety training during orientations and to get repeated safety reminders over time, “so we’ll probably do both,” said Rhonda Kirts, associate dean of students.
The preliminary results of the student survey indicate that while motorists may avoid congested areas, pedestrians won’t, and changing pedestrian behavior will be challenging, Voitik said. “That doesn’t mean you can’t modify it, but it’s going to take a real concerted effort with safety training at orientations, upgrading crossings and intersections, and working with the MTD.”
At the April 11 trustees’ meeting, Herman said that the MTD had denied the university’s request for a seat on the MTD’s board of trustees on the grounds that the Champaign County Board statutes disallowed it. The UI trustees urged Herman to press the issue. “We are their premier customer. There are many millions of dollars that we afford to MTD, and we should have a larger say,” Herman said.