COLUMBIA — A vertical barrier will be built down the middle of College Avenue between the University Avenue and Rollins Street intersections in order to improve pedestrian safety.
Columbia City Council approved the design team's recommendation to install a corral rail on top of a raised median in the middle of a length of College Avenue at Monday's council meeting by a 4-2 vote.
The barrier, called Alternative A, will be accompanied by two High-Intensity Activated Crosswalk (H.A.W.K) signals between Rosemary Lane and Wilson Avenue as well as Wilson Avenue and Bouchelle Avenue. The signals are designed to allow pedestrians to cross busy streets safely while maintaining the flow of traffic.
According to the project's report, the plan approved will cost $750,000. The project will be funded by a Missouri Department of Transportation grant which will pay a maximum of $659,000 towards the project and the difference will be split between MU and the City of Columbia.
The purpose of the barrier and the two specialized crosswalks is to limit the number of pedestrians who cross College Avenue illegally at areas other than the designated crosswalks at the Rollins Street and University Avenue intersections.
“This is going to be inconvenient to people living in East Campus. But this is not a convenience issue, this is a safety issue,” Mayor Bob McDavid said. “This is a dangerous road. There is a death waiting to happen here.”
Benjamin Ross, a consulting engineer for Engineering Surveys and Services, said that an average of 2,500 people cross the street mid-block daily, which presents a serious safety risk for both pedestrians and drivers.
Installation of the median will remove left turn access from College Avenue onto Wilson Avenue and Rosemary Lane. It would also remove motorist's ability to turn left out of the East Campus neighborhood from Wilson and Bouchelle avenues and Rosemary Lane.
The loss of left turn access was a big concern for East Campus neighborhood residents and property owners.
“I’ve played the Frogger game on College. I totally get it. There are a lot of safety issues and I agree with that. But this barrier is going to open a whole new realm of safety problems we can’t even conceptualize,” Sarah Smith said.
Smith and others said the proposal will create traffic backups in the East Campus area as well as forcing more people to turn left at an already crowded intersection at Rollins Street and College Avenue. However, other residents were happy with council’s decision.
"I’m very pleased with what happened. There was a serious safety issue and this will help a lot," said Chad Phillips, campus and community relations chair for the Missouri Students Association. "While it might take away from the convenience of traffic, I think safety should be the number one issue, and I’m glad they took that into consideration."
A convoluted passage
The council decided to take action on the project because of concern about meeting the grant's Dec. 1 deadline of having the project bid out, but Alternative A's passage didn't come easily.
Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe motioned for council to recommend Alternative D, which would install a H.A.W.K. system and promote education through the university, but would not include a median or prohibit left turns. That motion failed when it didn’t receive a second.
She then motioned for a landscaped median which would allow for left turns, as well as the H.A.W.K. systems. That motion eventually failed on a 3-3 vote with Hoppe, First Ward Councilwoman Ginny Chadwick and Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas voting in favor. Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala as not present at the meeting.
Thomas moved to amend Hoppe’s second motion to remove the left turns, which was Alternative G as proposed by developers. That motion failed on the same 3-3 vote.
Chadwick motioned to table the issue until the next council meeting, which would allow the absent Skala to vote as well as give MoDOT time to answer if they would agree to fund Alternative G. That motion also failed 3-3.
MoDOT said in a letter to Public Works Director John Glascock that they preferred Alternatives A and B, though they presented eight design options in the report. Although the department recommended Alternative G after a 2009 study, it received the second lowest feasibility score out of the eight options and was not considered as effective during the final analysis.
Council doubted that MoDOT would approve funding Alternative G.
"There is nothing in their letter that says they would recommend a landscaped median," Nauser said. "I don’t believe MoDOT, in their financial situation, is going to approve having a landscaped median on this roadway that's going to create issues with plowing snow and maintenance."
The vote on Alternative A was approved with votes from McDavid, Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp, Thomas, and Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser. Many council members said that something had to be done now, which was why they supported the proposal.
“Option A is the only way we’re going to bring votes together to move this forward,” Trapp said. “I think it’s risking the lives of our college students to delay a complicated process which has been going on for a long time.”
Julie Nolfo, a traffic engineer who conducted the study on pedestrian traffic on College Avenue, said that she supported Alternative A because other options wouldn’t work as well.
“The pedestrian situation on College Avenue is one of the worst I’ve ever observed,” Nolfo said. “You need some sort of physical deterrent to bring them to these crosswalks and to use them. At that point we feel very confident they will be effective."
Residents and property owners disagreed, saying MoDOT suggested Alternatives A and B despite public desire for a landscape median.
“We in East Campus are uncomfortable with this policy that has gone on… I find this very upsetting and quite misleading,” said Janet Hammen, president of the East Campus Neighborhood Association. “I’m astounded at the attitude about these students and residents who live here that they will continue to jaywalk no matter what we do.”
Council was more concerned with safety than aesthetics and future traffic issues caused by the project.
"This is a public safety issue," Nauser said. "I don’t want it on my conscience two years down the road if some student stands in the [proposed] landscaped median crossing College Avenue and gets hit by a car."
Larry Hubbard, MU's director of planning and design construction, said Alternative A is supported by the university. Of the three current students who spoke, all were in favor of Alternative A.
“As students, I think we can all agree we’re going to vie for the most safe option,” MU student Syed Ejaz said. “If it’s something that provides safety, convenience and peace of mind for students crossing College Avenue, it’s an option we’d like to move forward with. That’s why we’re happy with what was voted on today.”
Methods to deal with the increased traffic on College Avenue were discussed, but would require more study and funding not provided by the grant. Construction will begin in May 2015 after local universities are finished with the spring semester.
Supervising editor is Samuel Hardiman.