On Thursday, the City of Peoria held a public meeting to discuss ways to redesign the intersection of Main and University. A hundred-year-old water main recently broke there, and while patching has been done, there need to be more extensive repairs made that requires the whole intersection be rebuilt. Since it’s being redone anyway, this seems like the right time to talk about ways it can be improved — to strike while the iron is hot, so to speak.
One of the suggestions made at the meeting was to construct a pedestrian bridge. The Journal Star reported it this way:
But to the pleasant surprise of [Public Works Director Mike] Rogers, some forum attendees advocated pedestrian overpasses, perhaps positioned away from the intersection, as a way to improve traffic flow.
“Nobody has to stop driving — just go over the bridge across the street,” said Jose Lozano, a Bradley professor and area resident. “It’s safer for drivers and pedestrians, and a lot cheaper.”
With all due respect, this is a terrible idea. Here’s why:
- Motorists still have to stop driving. The contention that “nobody has to stop driving” is a real puzzler. For traffic not to stop, it would take more than a pedestrian bridge — it would take a vehicular bridge that separates the grade of Main and University, allowing Main street traffic to travel over or under University, in order to allow traffic to flow unimpeded. Short of that, there’s still going to be an intersection, and it’s still going to be signalized. And providing for safe navigation of that intersection will still need to be done.
- It doesn’t make the street safer for pedestrians. First of all, we have to think of the street and not merely the intersection in isolation. Building a pedestrian bridge and giving traffic the idea that “nobody has to stop driving” will put pedestrians who don’t use the pedestrian bridge at risk, such as those who cross Main at Maplewood or cross University at Bradley Avenue. They’re not going to walk all the way to Main and University to take the pedestrian bridge. They will continue to cross at grade, and encouraging faster traffic will put their safety at risk. And, let’s face it, many college students (or professors) are not going to go out of their way to use a pedestrian bridge when the street is only sixty feet wide, and especially where there’s a walk signal.
- It doesn’t make the street safer for bicyclists. The intersection needs to be redesigned not only to make things safer for pedestrians, but to make things safer for all users. That includes bicyclists, which would not benefit at all from a pedestrian bridge no matter where it is placed. Encouraging faster traffic where there are already narrow lanes and even narrower sidewalks will put their safety at risk.
- It doesn’t make the street safer for the disabled. You can’t ride your wheelchair up the stairs to a pedestrian bridge and back down the other side. Unless they’re going to make the pedestrian bridge handicapped-accessible, which seems like it would be a challenge given the space constraints in that area (ramps? elevator?), the street will be made even more hostile to the disabled who try to traverse it.
- It doesn’t make the street safer for cars. There are no small number of vehicular accidents at this intersection. Even if all pedestrians used the proposed bridge, it would not make the intersection safer for vehicles which would arguably pass through the intersection even faster if there were no pedestrians to worry about. Also, if the pedestrian bridge were not enclosed, it would give delinquent children an easy place to drop objects onto cars that pass beneath.
- It perpetuates the myth that the public right of way is for cars only. The impetus for this forum was a presentation on “complete streets” that was given to the City Council a couple of meetings ago. The whole idea behind “complete streets” is that streets are a public right-of-way, and as such they are for everyone, not just motorists. According to the National Complete Streets Coalition website:
Complete Streets are streets for everyone. They are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Complete Streets make it easy to cross the street, walk to shops, and bicycle to work….
Creating Complete Streets means transportation agencies must change their approach to community roads. By adopting a Complete Streets policy, communities direct their transportation planners and engineers to routinely design and operate the entire right of way to enable safe access for all users, regardless of age, ability, or mode of transportation. This means that every transportation project will make the street network better and safer for drivers, transit users, pedestrians, and bicyclists – making your town a better place to live.
A pedestrian bridge completely misses the mark of this vision. It perpetuates the idea that the right-of-way is primarily, if not solely, the domain of automobiles, which are presumed to have a natural right to unimpeded travel, and all other users of the roadway are intruders. This kind of thinking needs to stop.
The right-of-way is public land and pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, and the disabled have just as much right of access to it as motorists, and we need to learn how to share the right-of-way as equals. That’s the kind of vision this intersection reconstruction should be striving for.
A better alternative that was presented at the meeting is the idea of a raised table. In this scenario, the whole intersection is raised, which will require cars to slow down in order to enter and exit the intersection. This makes the intersection safer for everyone, and also makes the street safer. When the light turns yellow at an intersection, there are always those motorists (I’ve even done it myself, I admit) who speed up to make the light rather than slow down. A raised intersection would virtually eliminate that. Cars approaching the intersection would always have to slow down regardless of what color the light is.
Whatever solution is found for the intersection, it should balance the needs of all users and take the entire context of that intersection into consideration. A pedestrian bridge fails on all counts. It should be eliminated from consideration.