Iowa City to make intersection more "walkable"


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Iowa City wants to be more walkable. And it's not alone.

"Walkability" is the new trend in urban development, experts said, and new additions to Iowa City streets are just the most recent local example.

After concern about increasing traffic near the Campus Recreation & Wellness Center, located at the intersection of Madison and Burlington Streets, officials began to closely monitor the area.

The city recently installed high-visibility signs and pedestrian signal countdown timers at the intersection, said Darian Nagle-Gamm, an Iowa City traffic engineering planner. And on Monday, neon in-street signs were installed at the intersection of Court and Madison Streets on the other side of the rec center.

Additionally, officials have discussed building a median on Burlington Street, extending from the Iowa River bridge to Capitol Street, said Brian Boelk, a city senior civil engineer.

Concern about vehicle traffic in that intersection is nothing new, said University of Iowa spokesman Tom Moore, but with the new building, pedestrians added a new element to the mix.

That change left Iowa City officials trying to balance walkability with increased traffic.

"The city has a long history of its inhabitants being much more transit users than other cities in Iowa, of this size or larger ones," said UI urban and regional planning Professor John Fuller. "The idea of walkability is not exactly new to Iowa City, but it is being promoted much more so now than in the past."

The new signs is part of an ongoing plan to make the area safer, and they come just days after two vehicle-pedestrian accidents on Madison Street — one at the intersection with Burlington, the other at Iowa Avenue.

The Johnson County Council of Governments conducted a before-and-after study at the Madison and Burlington Street intersection and found the number of drivers yielding to pedestrians increased after the new signs were installed.

This is a change many cities statewide are undertaking, said Scott Falb, a driver-safety specialist in the Iowa Department of Transportation.

He said the updated signs, crosswalk timers, and talk of a median for pedestrians are additions that will have a positive effect on driver awareness and pedestrian safety.

"I've seen already a change in driver behavior [statewide] toward pedestrians," Falb said, anecdotally.

But he also cautioned too many signs could lead to trouble for motorists.

"Just adding another sign may not increase safety if you've got so many signs out there that you can't read them all," he said. "They have to be well-placed to work, and you have to make sure the signage you use is the most appropriate for the location you're at."

The potential median construction — with an estimated cost of $2 million — will not be discussed by the Iowa City City Council until January. Officials brought it up two years ago because of pedestrian-safety issues, Boelk said, but the move was put on hold after the 2008 floods.

Fuller said these measures usually have two goals.

"The idea of making all streets and crosswalks more walkable is partly safety but also in part for trying to make pedestrian movements more common in cities," he said.

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