Providence Road crosswalk improves safety for pedestrians, slows motorists

Wednesday, September 3, 2014 | 9:17 p.m. CDT; updated 11:03 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 3, 2014
The pedestrian bridge over Providence Road, pictured here in 2012, was demolished and replaced with a pedestrian activated crosswalk.

COLUMBIA — Young people are making more "safe crossings" using the zigzag crosswalk on Providence Road near Douglass High School, according to an MU study.

Motorists are also slowing down in the vicinity, the study found.

The three-year research study, conducted by MU, the city of Columbia and PedNet Coalition, shows better pedestrian safety and a decrease in traffic speed at the crosswalk. The study began in 2012 before the infrastructure changes occurred. Since the change in 2013, research has been collected each June. 

Fourth Ward City Councilman Ian Thomas and MU associate professors  Stephen Sayers and  Sonja Wilhelm Stanis conducted the study.

Within a month of the project's completion in 2013, researchers found that 20 percent of crossings were "safe crossings," or crossings where pedestrians used the new crosswalk. They also found that while only 7.1 percent of youths had used the pedestrian bridge that the crosswalk replaced, 31.3 percent of them now use the crosswalk.

Researchers hope that if one kid sees another use the crosswalk, he or she will follow. Thomas said he hopes this number will get higher.

On the traffic side of things, the study found that driving behavior changed as well. The average traffic speed fell from 34.8 to 33.5 mph. There also was a marked reduction in the number of vehicles driving over the 35 mph speed limit.  

"Cars traveled very fast along this street, sometimes up to 70 mph along that residential stretch," Sayers said. "This created lots of frustration for residents of the neighborhood who feared for their children and their own safety as well as motorists who had to dodge pedestrians." 

Before the crosswalk, there was an overpass bridge that some pedestrians used. But the bridge was considered unsafe by some, and they crossed the street, dodging cars instead. It was demolished as part of the project.

"There were concerns about crime, as the bridge had high walls and poor lighting,"  Sayers said. "Also, it was not ADA compliant for people with disabilities. So, a signalized crosswalk with a 400-foot median would be a safer alternative, which could also have an effect on slowing traffic along that stretch."

While Providence Road was being observed, College Avenue was used as a control site in the study. It does not have a crosswalk, so it helped the researchers understand just how much impact a crosswalk can have. Wilhelm Stanis said there was an increase in speeding and crossing patterns didn't change.

"There is a need to better understand the impact on infrastructure changes on behaviors and, in particular, crosswalks for safe crossing behaviors," she said.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.

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