Battle over Broadway isn't just for property owners

Thursday, April 30, 2009 | 3:44 p.m. CDT; updated 10:05 a.m. CDT, Friday, May 1, 2009

If you’ve driven down west Broadway lately—and on weekday mornings, it sure seems that nearly all of you are doing just that—you’ve experienced what has become of one of Columbia’s stateliest residential streets.

We’ve made it into a thoroughfare.


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That’s a combination, and a contradiction, of roles that doesn’t work to anybody’s satisfaction. We old-timers remember fondly the great Battle of Broadway, when Ray Beck proposed four-laning the stretch between Garth and Clinkscales. Ray was always a great believer in the virtues of more concrete. That time, he hadn’t reckoned with the power of an enraged, engaged and influential citizenry. The street stayed narrow.

Still, unless we’re going to build a bypass to get all those cars from Walmart on the west to Sam’s Club on the east without crawling through downtown, something has to be done. The focus currently is on the stretch from Garth to West Boulevard, about eight-tenths of a mile.

To see how the forces are lining up for this iteration of the Battle, I sat in on Wednesday afternoon’s “Community Advisory Committee Meeting #3.” After nearly two hours of listening, I came away thinking that conflict connoisseurs may be in for a disappointment this time.

Partly, that’s because the proposals on the table are a good deal more modest. Partly, it may be that we’re early in the process, with possibilities still pretty flexible. And partly, at least Wednesday, the absence of overt hostility appeared attributable to the affable guy in the front of the room. Even his name is friendly—Buddy Desai.
Buddy displayed for the committee and a couple dozen onlookers 10 sketches of possible “solutions.” He emphasized that they were being offered “for discussion purposes only,” with no decisions expected or even possible until there’s been a good deal more research and conversation.

Buddy and the firm he works for, C2HM Hill, are no strangers to Columbia. He has been leading discussions about roads here at least since 2003. The question back then was how to improve I-70. We see how that one has turned out, but there’s likely to be action sooner on Broadway, if only because the sewers along there require replacement and that will mean digging up the pavement.

My impression Wednesday was that at least most of the committee members are resigned to the reality that we’re going to wind up with a wider, busier street. Some, of course, are more comfortable with that than others, the comfort level probably rising in relation to the distance between the member’s own home and the street under scrutiny. (Disclosure: I live a little more than a block south of Broadway and walk along it more than I drive it. So my selfish concerns are the deplorable state of the sidewalks and the number of cars that now cut off Broadway down to Stewart past my house.)

The sketches Buddy showed us have several things in common. All envision a three-lane street, with one driving lane in each direction and a center strip that could be just a turn lane or could be a raised or sunken landscaped divider with “protected” left turns at some or maybe all the side streets. There’s even a “green” version, with a sunken 16-foot median designed to handle drainage.  All are likely to take at least a few feet off the adjoining front yards.

To someone who doesn’t have a yard at risk, the more attractive alternatives include 5- or 6-foot “tree lawns” between the curb and either a 5-foot sidewalk or a 10-foot “pedway.” Nearly all the sketches showed bicycles sharing a widened driving lane or having their own striped bike lanes between cars and curbs. The widths of right of  way required range from 55 to 82 feet. 

An artifact of Broadway’s historic development is that nobody knows exactly how much right of way the city already owns. An amateur measurement showed the street itself now varying from 30 to 56 feet wide, not counting sidewalks. A professional survey is in process. Another survey, in 2007, showed 15,500 vehicles a day using the street. The projection is for 18,500 vehicles a day by 2030.

By then, if all goes well, the scars on the landscape and emotions will have healed, oak trees will be shading the median, and the sidewalks will be passable.
In the meantime, Buddy will be presiding again on May 13, as the committee tries to agree on recommendations. I intend to be there. Broadway, after all, belongs to all of us.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism. 

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