COLUMBIA — An overhaul of the intersection of Stadium and Forum boulevards to accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians will get under way next year if the plan is approved by state and federal highway officials.
The project, which includes raised, striped crosswalks; raised medians; bike lanes; special traffic signals for bicyclists and pedestrians; and lane adjustments, will cost between $200,000 and $300,000, according to city staff. The Columbia City Council gave the go-ahead for the work after a two-hour public hearing on Monday that featured 18 speakers.
Although the council voted unanimously in favor of the project in its original form, it left open the possibility that construction crews might reposition a proposed crosswalk across Stadium Boulevard east of Forum.
In a brief presentation before the hearing, Public Works Director John Glascock outlined two concerns raised at the Oct. 15 council meeting, when the project was tabled. Those concerns are that the new intersection features would delay large trucks serving area businesses and restrict the turning movements of trucks from Stadium onto Forum.
Glascock said city staff have suggested the proposed median on the east side of the intersection be moved further east so trucks would not run over its tip when turning. But in so doing, Glascock said, pedestrians would have to walk all the way across the street with nowhere to stop.
Asked if the raised median could be pulled back without removing the safe haven, Glascock said the crosswalk would have to be skewed, creating a longer walk across the street.
PedNet Coalition member Robert Johnson disliked that idea, saying pedestrians will have only 20 seconds to cross the highway.
“I can make it across 90 to 100 feet of concrete in a short time,” said Johnson. “But could my grandmother? Or someone in a wheelchair? Or a family with small children?”
Ellen Thomas, a pediatrician, also supported the original proposal.
“I see every day the terrible health toll on our children that results from, in part, infrastructure that discourages or even prohibits active transportation,” Thomas said. “This is a great opportunity to make a change in the right direction.”
Thomas also expressed support for keeping the raised median in the plan for the crosswalk.
“Even though (the median) is not a true pedestrian refuge, it can serve as one in a pinch, effectively reducing the psychological barrier caused by having to cross six lanes of traffic,” she added.
Mayor Darwin Hindman reminded the council that “it is our policy to have a ‘walkable’ Columbia. The simple fact is that you have six lanes that you have to cross, and that is extremely intimidating.”
Hindman said the goal of the project is to make the intersection a multimodal place that works for bicyclists and pedestrians as well as motorists.
“When it comes to going across Stadium, we need to make changes that will not cause people to be intimidated,” he said. “I believe that that is going to require a raised median.”
Hindman also believed that the inclusion of crosswalk timers and “bulbs” will help provide a “sense of safety.”
In passing the motion for the project to proceed, the council also took into consideration the suggestion by Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe to shift the whole Stadium crosswalk and median system eastward — a move that would lessen the truck-turning problem without compromising the time it takes for pedestrians to cross the road.
Money for the project will come from the city’s $22 million federal grant for nonmotorized transportation projects.