Discourse / May 25, 2018

Bike Nice: Close South Street for cyclists

This column has lurched from the pragmatic to the preposterous. Here’s a proposal even more idealistic than returning Galesburg to a city-wide 25 mph speed limit, or creating a school zone limit of 20 mph around Knox.

Close South Street to regular through traffic.

The status of South Street has changed in the past five years, with the completion of two multi-million dollar projects on Main Street. We — the taxpayers of this city, state and nation — have spent millions on the Don Moffitt Bridge over the railroad tracks on West Main Street and the Jon Sibley Underpass beneath the railroad tracks on East Main Street. We spent so that people could drive through town without getting stopped by trains. Main Street is now the through-and-through street.

Mayor John Pritchard has cited better emergency response as one of the benefits of these major improvements on Main. Which means that South Street could be closed to regular through traffic, directly in front of Old Main and Alumni Hall.

Emergency vehicles that had to use South Street could turn west on South at Cedar or east on South at Cherry. Regular motorists on South Street who plan to drive through town could and should take Main. Why go three “extra” blocks to Main? Because we just spent big money to make Main the no-train delay thoroughfare. If that was not the ultimate plan for Main, that “extra” money could have been spent in some other equally needy town.

Campus visitors would be guided by permanent signs to appropriate parking areas.

I can hear the objections now. My response begins with a concern for safety of non-motorized users, including students, cyclists and pedestrians.

As they say in the PR business, this change won’t make South Street safe. But it would make it safer, by reducing risks of death and injury for people crossing South Street. In my institutional memory, our community has suffered two hurt and one killed on South Street. I think students deserve better than an average of one tragedy or trauma per decade.

Students should look before crossing. They also should be able to walk around their neighborhood, including across the street, without worrying about motorized vehicles literally — and now, needlessly — barreling through at 30+ miles per hour.

Did you notice that two of the pedestrian safety signs installed in the middle of South Street have been run over? And the signs actually increase the hazard for cyclists on South. How does that make us safer? Reducing traffic on South will make it safer. Since that traffic is unnecessary, there’s no reason not to.

Closing South Street could also reconnect Knox and Standish Park. Activities that, for whatever reason, including the use of food from an outside vendor, can’t be held on campus, could be held as close to campus as you can get.

I’m inspired in part by another park in another city. The Guardian recently reported that New York mayor Bill De Blasio announced that “Central Park would be closed to most car traffic and returned to the people.” As De Blasio put it, “There’s gonna be a kind of peace and sense of security that wasn’t there before.”

Closing South Street will not be quick or easy. It will take months, if not longer, to do the political heavy lifting. It will not solve every problem in the neighborhood. But bringing “a kind of peace and sense of security that wasn’t there before” is a good start.

That’s all I have for you. My 20 minutes is up. Most of it has been spent advocating for things I believe would benefit students and non-motorized travelers: better bike parking; slower, quieter streets and sidewalks. I’m already “that guy,” the one who’s always telling the same old stories. A new class arrives in the fall, and I won’t have a year’s worth of new ideas by then.

A final comment. If the TKS Flunk Day issue offends, that’s to be expected. If it mentions you, that’s cool. If it makes you think, that’s even better. Why is the Tour de France the best sporting event on TV? Every pro sport has fame, fortune, thrills, spills, speed, strength, grit, precision, endurance, cheaters and PEDs. The Tour also has a three-week-long helicopter ride over the world’s most beautiful countryside. Our countryside is nice, too enjoy!


Tags:  bicycle bike nice biking discourse Galesburg safety South Street

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