The first part of a three-phase plan to improve pedestrian safety on South Street was set in motion over winter break. Data collected by Campus Safety at the end of fall term will determine what kinds of further action are taken.
Director of Campus Safety John Schlaf helped organize efforts to collect data concerning where students most frequently cross South Street.
“We participated in collecting data about traffic from Academy Street all the way to Kellogg Street, and all that data went to a local engineering firm. They are just finalizing that data and will be making recommendations based on what that traffic study has shown,” Schlaf said.
In the meantime, the primary phase of the plan, constructed during a joint meeting held Nov. 7 between city officials and the South Street Pedestrian Safety Study Committee created by President Teresa Amott, has been put into effect.
Instructor in Art Mike Godsil detailed the components of the initial phase, many of which were implemented within a month of the November meeting.
“The day after that meeting they were repainting the crosswalks,” Godsil said.
Other measures include the installation of vertical pedestrian crossing signs on Dec. 6 and the upgrading of street lamps for night crossings to the maximum allowance of 50,000 lumens and 400-watt fixtures.
A recent change in Illinois state law has improved the effectiveness of the signs, which serve the dual purpose of indicating that vehicles must stop for pedestrians as well as visually constricting the street and keeping speeds low when pedestrians are absent.
“The Illinois law changed effective 2010. Before, the law read in such a way that vehicles had to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk. The wording changed so it says that drivers now have to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk,” Schlaf said.
Schlaf supported the implementation of the signage during the break, as it gave drivers time to adjust to the new signage while allowing the city to educate and inform drivers of the changes through the use of television and other media.
Immediate changes were seen as necessary by both the college and the city, as 42 percent of students live north of South Street.
“So we’re talking several thousand pedestrian crossings a day. From that standpoint, it is undeniable that it is the single busiest pedestrian crossing street in the city,” Godsil said.
“Mayor Garza indicated from the outset that this was the highest priority on his radar,” Godsilsaid, “His personal commitment was that he didn’t want this to be a drawn out thing like so many two or three plans can be … He said that he would be very disappointed if he was not able to accomplish [the plan] by the end of this calendar year.”
Concerns surrounding the signage are present, as they have caused some confusion among drivers, though the confusion is expected to subside with time.
“They’ve done the job, but it has caused some confusion for some of the drivers. That confusion goes back to seeing that stop sign. Some people were under the mistaken impression that they were supposed to stop regardless of whether anyone was in the crosswalk or not,” Schlaf said.
Schlaf is also concerned with the signage creating a lax pedestrian crossing culture. According to Schlaf, midblock crossings are focused in two “critical locations.” The first is located across from Williston Hall, with the second being across from Hamblin Hall.
“We want to make sure that the signs don’t give the pedestrians a false sense of security, and there’s still a need for pedestrians to be alert to the traffic even though the crosswalk may be there. Be cautious about the fact that they aren’t there to lessen an individual’s awareness of vehicular traffic. It’s there to assist,” Schlaf said. “So we still want our students to take advantage of the signs and take advantage of the crosswalks and try to use them as much as possible, and I know it’s a human nature thing, but try to avoid midblock crossings as much as possible.”
Both Godsil and Schlaf linked any further actions to the results of the traffic and pedestrian data that was collected at the end of fall term. Measures taken will depend on the recommendations of the engineering firm analyzing the data.
However, some options have been put forth, including speed-monitoring devices, speed reduction on South Street, pedestrian illuminated crosswalks or stop lights, the creation of a central median or the restriction of the street to two lanes. The college is also in discussions with the city concerning the building of a sidewalk on the east side of
SMC while considering changes to campus, such as the elimination of terrace crossings and pathways that lead students directly to the street.
Non-infrastructure related measures include the introduction of pedestrian safety lessons to new student orientation, in order to make students aware of traffic laws in Illinois. In terms of enforcement, city ordinances to address the recent state law changes and jaywalking on South Street are also in consideration.
Schlaf insisted that student efforts played a role in pushing the changes forward.
“I know that the expressions of grief and concern that came from our students did not go unnoticed, and I say that from the city’s perspective as well as the Galesburg community,” Schlaf said.