COLUMBIA — The city has released a new conceptual plan for demolishing the pedestrian overpass on Providence Road north of Park Avenue and replacing it with a ground-level crosswalk that would include pedestrian signals and three new raised medians.
The project as proposed would cost around $295,000. That would be far less than the $1 million that, a year ago, GetAboutColumbia project manager Ted Curtis estimated it would cost to either refurbish the overpass or build a new one that would be more attractive, accessible and inviting to pedestrians. That plan has since been scrapped.
The overpass was built in the early 1970s; the Columbia Housing Authority owns it, and the city will need the approval of the authority's board of commissioners before it can destroy the overpass.
Commissioner Max Lewis said the authority supports the city's plans but recognizes they're not final.
Lewis said that few people use the overpass and that it is not accessible to people with disabilities.
The overpass is inconvenient for people with strollers or bicycles. Also, Douglass High School built a chain-link fence around the eastern base of the overpass, boxing it into the school-yard. This means pedestrians have to walk a significant distance to find a gap in the fence.
Lewis emphasized the main goals of the project are to enhance the efficiency and safety of that area of Providence. The city also hopes to make the area more aesthetically appealing.
Jill Stedem, of the city Public Works Department, said that so far the city has only developed a conceptual plan. A real plan won’t be taken to engineers until 2011.
The plan available now shows a median on Providence at Park Avenue, which would keep cars from turning left onto or off of Providence. Another similar median a few yards farther north on Providence would keep cars from turning left onto or off of Switzler Street.
The medians are intended to help streamline traffic in a confusing area.
Columbia traffic engineer Scott Bitterman said the crosswalk itself would be equipped with pedestrian signals to stop traffic when someone activates a cross button.
Opinions among residents were varied on Thursday. Marcia Williams, 17, said she doesn’t want the overpass demolished. She prefers to use it when she's walking with children. She added that the fence around the eastern base doesn’t deter her. Then she waited for a lull in traffic before walking across the five lanes of Providence.
Douglass students Dustin Young, 17, and Justin Meyers, 16, agree that crossing Providence at this intersection is complicated, but they don’t think the crosswalk plan will help.
“It’s safer to have the overpass… if they had an opening (in the fence) people would use it," Young said. "I think a crosswalk would stop-up traffic.”
Meyers said, “(The overpass) takes too long to get up.” He said he does see a lot of people use it, even though the fence makes it hard to access.
Another problem is the fact that the overpass (and the planned crosswalk) are in the center of a block, rather than at an intersection, making pedestrians walk out of their way for a safe route, when they would prefer to just walk straight toward their destination.
In a one hour period on Thursday afternoon, a Missourian reporter observed the location and saw that many people chose to cross the street at ground level rather than use the overpass. Douglass students, neighborhood residents on their way to the gas station, people on bikes, mothers with strollers, an elderly man in a motorized wheelchair, and even a four-person family with two children not yet of school age: all of them crossed one set of lanes and then waited in the turning lane for the next two lanes to clear
During that hour, only one pedestrian used the overpass.
There will be a public hearing at 7 p.m. on April 19 in the Council Chamber of the City Hall Building at 701 E. Broadway. At that meeting, the city will make note of public input.