Expect construction on University Avenue in downtown Champaign

Expect construction on University Avenue in downtown Champaign

A lot of text will follow this, so here's the short version:

  • Work will begin on University Avenue between Randolph and Chestnut streets in early June and is expected to be completed by Dec. 2.
  • The work will require lane and sidewalk closures.
  • The $2 million project will include a resurfacing of University Avenue, bicycle lanes on Walnut Street and new traffic signals, street lighting and sidewalks.
  • The left turn lanes on University Avenue at Walnut and Neil streets will be removed.
  • The city will hold an open house at the Champaign City Building, 102 N. Neil St., on May 24 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. for those wanting to review the plans.

Click here to see a PDF of the design.

My first reaction was that, with bumpouts added to University Avenue, how could the city possibly maintain four lanes of traffic? It's already too tight. So I asked Champaign civil engineer Chris Sokolowski for an explanation. Here's how he responded:

The bumpouts into University are only in those blocks that currently have on-street parking, basically west of Neil Street. ...


With those two turn lanes (on University Avenue at Neil and Walnut streets), the current lanes between Neil and Walnut are about 9-feet-wide, which is less than the minimum standards for urban areas of 10 feet. To put that in perspective, a bus is 9-feet-wide from outside of mirror to outside of mirror.


Removing the turn lanes allows us to have lanes that meet accepted standards. It also allows the sidewalk on the north side of University by the City Building to be widened by about 2 feet and eliminates some subtle shifts in the curb line and travel lane for westbound traffic.

The moral of the story is that, by winter 2011, the portion of University Avenue along the City Building that gets really tight should open up a bit. You'll see bumpouts west of Neil Street (where it opens up a bit already) protecting the on-street parking and making the pedestrian crossing shorter. And city officials hope the other changes they are making to the sidewalks and signals will improve safety for everyone, regardless of their mode of transportation.

Those are the highlights, but if you want the long-form explanation, which has a few more details, here's the full press release from the city:

On Tuesday, May 24, 2011, from 4 PM to 6 PM in the City Council Chambers at 102 N. Neil Street, the City of Champaign will hold a public open house for the construction of improvements to University Avenue from Randolph Street to Chestnut Street. City staff and the contractor will be on-hand to answer any questions related to the project and an exhibit illustrating the improvements will be available for viewing. Work is anticipated to start in early June with a final completion date of December 2, 2011.


The project will require lane and sidewalk closures. However, University Avenue and all side streets will remain open throughout the project and Downtown businesses will be open and accessible to the public.


The project focuses on the enhancement of safety for pedestrians, bicyclists and the motoring public through the replacement of aging infrastructure such as traffic signals, street lighting and sidewalk; the enhancement and shortening of pedestrian crossings; the addition of on-street bicycle facilities along Walnut Street; and a resurfacing of University Avenue between State and Chestnut Streets.


The University Avenue Project is a $2 million investment in Downtown Champaign. The project addresses two of Downtown’s busiest and highest crash locations (University and Randolph Street and University and Neil Street) with safety enhancements such as more visible traffic signal indications out over the roadway, improved street lighting, curb bumpouts to reduce pedestrian crossing distances and increase pedestrian visibility, and new sidewalk ramps and pedestrian features to improve accessibility.


Through the addition of pedestrian and bicycle features, which include a refuge median at the Market Street crossing of University near Illinois Terminal and a bike lane along Walnut Street between Logan and Washington Streets, the project will improve the connections between the areas north and south of University Avenue as well as between Downtown and campus. The project also includes the installation of one of the City’s first energy efficient street lighting systems to utilize LEDs.


City staff apologizes in advance for any inconvenience this work will cause to Downtown businesses, employees and visitors and appreciates the cooperation of everyone in order to maintain a safe environment.


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