Land-use planner spies unsafe areas for pedestrians

Land-use planner spies unsafe areas for pedestrians

URBANA – During a short walk on the University of Illinois campus Friday morning, Suzan Pinsof, an Evanston transportation and land-use planner specializing in pedestrian and bicycle trails, noted several unsafe areas for pedestrians.

"There's no question it needs improvement," Pinsof said of the sidewalks and crosswalks.

She was at the UI for a planning institute organized by the UI's Department of Urban and Regional Planning. She talked about how to make areas safe and inviting for pedestrians.

Her presentation included a walking tour of an area on the east side of campus. Pinsof led a group from Levis Faculty Center and down Illinois Street Goodwin Avenue, Green Street and Lincoln Avenue to assess how pedestrian-friendly the area was. One participant, Scott Dossett of Urbana, volunteered to use a wheelchair to tour the area. Another participant, Judy West, is blind and uses a cane.

Among the obstacles they found in navigating the area were narrow and uneven sidewalks and curb cuts that didn't line up with crosswalks.

Many curb cuts take up a large radius on the corner and are angled toward the center of the intersection. Pinsof said the areas where pedestrians cross should be smaller and the curb cuts should direct them right into the crosswalks.

At the corner of Green and Gregory streets, one of the curb cuts had no flat "landing area" at the top. Instead, the sidewalk was at a steep incline as soon as a pedestrian approached the curb.

West said those with impaired vision sometimes find the opposite to be a problem as well.

"Some of the slopes are so gentle that a blind person can't tell they've entered the street," she said.

West also had difficulty discerning where the sidewalk ends and the bike lanes begin along Green Street.

Pinsof discussed a midblock crosswalk on Green Street between Illinois Street Residence Hall and Daniels Hall. There are no curb cuts at the sidewalk or center median.

"I would want to have more signage or markings to make sure cars stop. Right now I'm sure they don't," Pinsof said. "This really needs some work."

UI and city officials have discussed putting barriers along medians on Green Street to keep students from crossing in the middle of a block, but Pinsof was skeptical.

"I think students are going to cross midblock. We should try to make it into a safer crossing," she said, noting a median in the center of the street makes it easier to cross safely.

Pinsof said the wide sidewalk along Lincoln Avenue "is well-designed from a utilitarian standpoint, but it doesn't invite strolling."

She also noted some of the "walk" signals at intersections were too short. The group was only halfway across Green Street at Goodwin Avenue when the "don't walk" sign came on.

Pinsof said the national standard for how long the "walk" sign must remain on is being revised to accommodate elderly or disabled people who don't move as fast.

"All of these things that are challenges for people in wheelchairs are also challenges for people who are elderly," Pinsof said.

Many of the improvements Pinsof suggested, such as curb bump-outs and other traffic calming devices, have also been discussed by UI, Champaign and Urbana officials. They began looking more closely at making the campus safer for pedestrians after UI freshman Sarah Channick was killed last September when she was hit by a bus while crossing a street.

Staff from the UI and the cities of Champaign and Urbana attended Pinsof's presentation.

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