Pedestrian median, street congestion discussed at forum on downtown transportation

Tuesday, September 24, 2013 | 10:30 p.m. CDT; updated 7:57 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 25, 2013

COLUMBIA — At the Downtown Columbia Leadership Council's first forum on traffic, parking and access to downtown, attendance was so high that a few people had to sit on the floor or stand in the hall.

More than 30 people crowded into the Walton Building's community room Tuesday evening to discuss topics related to downtown transportation, including a planned pedestrian median on College Avenue, circulation around Locust Street and parking for people who work downtown.

The next forum is scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 22 in the same location.

College Avenue pedestrian median

The Columbia City Council has approved plans to construct a pedestrian median down the middle of College Avenue, stretching roughly from University Avenue to Rollins Street. The median is intended to reduce instances of pedestrians jaywalking across College Avenue.

Residents who live in the area noted the median would block cars from turning into some parts of the East Campus neighborhood. 

Many people in attendance were skeptical that the median would accomplish anything.

Debbie Strid, innkeeper of The Gathering Place Bed and Breakfast, said the area is a school crossing and should be treated as such.

"Unless that's a 14-foot fence, you're not going to keep them from crossing," she said. "They'll find a way."

Locust Street circulation 

At the downtown leadership council's previous meeting, members brainstormed how to improve access to downtown including the possibility of converting one-way streets including Locust, Paquin and Waugh into two-way streets.

On Tuesday evening, several parents whose children attend Lee Elementary voiced concerns over the busy traffic on Locust and the other nearby streets, especially at the beginning and end of the school day.

They said the Brookside apartment buildings on Locust Street, built earlier this year, have further congested the road. 

"The buses can barely get down there," said Toni Buckler, the school's crossing guard and the mother of a first-grader. "There are times when I just stand in the middle of the street because traffic can't go anywhere."

But Buckle said that as bad as traffic is, converting any of the roads into two-way streets would only attract more cars and make things worse. 

"I invite anyone who thinks Locust could be two-way to park down there between 7:30 and 7:50 in the morning and just watch," PTA member Kate Akers said. "It's scary."

Amy Sarver, the mother of a third- and a fourth-grader, said Locust Street needs a stop sign at the intersection with Waugh Street. 

"It's the only intersection on the whole strip of Locust — and, ironically, right at the corner of an elementary school — that doesn't have a stop sign," she said.

Parking for people who work downtown

Several attendees mentioned how difficult it is for people who work downtown to find and pay for parking. 

One person said he paid more than $35 a week to park while he went to work.

Deb Sheals, a member of the downtown leadership council, said that special parking passes for downtown workers have been discussed by a task force on parking, but that the idea has languished since the task force disbanded about a year ago. 

"I think we need to give it a little nudge," she said. 

Supervising editor is Margaux Henquinet.

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