Pedestrian-friendly changes update Utah college campuses

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Workers completed BYU Campus Drive Redesign this month, a project that involved three years of construction on Campus Drive with the goal of increasing pedestrian safety.

The project is one example of many different approaches Utah colleges have taken to encourage a pedestrian-friendly environment on their campuses.

Brigham Young University

Construction workers build a roundabout north of the ASB as part of the second phase of the BYU Campus Drive Redesign project. (Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo)

The objective of the recently completed Campus Drive Redesign project was to make the walk to campus safer for students who live north of the BYU campus, according to university spokesman Todd Hollingshead.

“Certainly it is safer. If you think about the students coming down from Heritage Halls, there used to be a street where cars could drive through there up to 30 miles an hour,” Hollingshead said. “Now it’s just a road going into the parking lot, so it’s much safer for the students to come down there and then to traverse over into campus.”

The third and final phase of this project moved the intersection next to the Hinckley Center at 450 East and 1230 North to the area slightly eastward. Hollingshead said this change will make the intersection safer for pedestrians, beautify the area and improve the flow of traffic to and from the intersection.

Other recent efforts to make its campus more pedestrian-friendly, according to Hollingshead, include the addition of a sidewalk through the parking lot east of the Hinckley Center, improvements on the bridges south of the Marriott Center, and a clear, elevated crosswalk just north of the Life Sciences Building.

While all these changes show BYU’s efforts to improve the safety of the campus, Hollingshead said he hopes pedestrians will remember to use caution at any intersection.

“I think what is important is to make sure that pedestrians themselves are very aware of their surroundings,” Hollingshead said. “We want to make things as pedestrian-friendly as possible, but pedestrians also need to always have safety on their minds when they’re crossing streets and make sure they cross carefully.”

Utah Valley University

Frank Young, UVU Associate Vice President of Facilities and Planning, said UVU is in the preliminary planning stage of building a bridge that will connect the UTA Orem Intermodal Center to the UVU campus. This bridge will provide a way for students to get to campus from the UTA station without having to walk over the I-15 interchange. This project is estimated to be complete within the next three years.

Several years ago, UVU built tunnels near the campus underneath University Parkway and UVU’s Campus Drive to prevent students from having to cross the road and conflict with traffic, according to Young.

Having a perimeter road around the campus, with most parking on the inside of this perimeter, has also helped to make the UVU campus more pedestrian-friendly, Young said.

“Once you’re parked, you don’t have to battle too many vehicle transitions, and then all of our buildings are connected through a concourse system,” Young said. “Once you’re inside, you don’t really have to go outside.”

University of Utah

John McNary, University of Utah Director of Campus Planning, said the university’s current goal is to transition from the commuter campus planned in the 1950s to a more pedestrian-oriented campus. The Campus Planning Department aims to achieve this by reducing the amount students and faculty drive and creating an environment in which pedestrians feel comfortable walking from one building to the next.

The creation of the 2008 campus master plan included a decision to create a denser academic core on the campus, according to McNary. He said putting the academic buildings closer together would create a more social atmosphere for students and help the entire campus to function better as a pedestrian-oriented campus.

“That’s the direction we’ve been going since then: to fill in the interstitial spaces between buildings to make it a denser core, a more vibrant academic community,” McNary said. “It’s at the very core of the planning for the campus to develop a more pedestrian-oriented campus.”

The University of Utah plans to build five pedestrian plazas on its campus to transform a once “long, straight, bleak walk” across campus into a social hub for students. (GSBS Architects)

One project currently underway intends to create a social hub for students by transforming what used to be a “long, straight, bleak walk” into five pedestrian plazas, where students will be able to find a place to eat, sit in the shade and connect with others.

The University of Utah has also developed master plans to make the campus more accessible to disabled students and to separate bicycle and pedestrian paths, according to McNary.

“We’re just trying to do whatever we can to make sure that the pedestrian experience is a comfortable experience where pedestrians feel secure, confident and comfortable as they walk around and that the campus is such that they can actually walk between places in enough time to get to their classes,” McNary said.

McNary said the university’s campus planning department also observes metrics of how many students travel to campus using public transportation as an indicator of how pedestrian friendly the campus has become.

“Even though it’s not obvious that this metric suggests it’s a pedestrian campus, it does suggest that pedestrians feel comfortable walking on campus because they’re willing to come to campus without their car,” McNary said.

The university also recently created a “Lean Team,” a group that studies and plans how to most effectively clear campus pathways when it snows. Part of this planning helped to implement a system that allows people to report problems they observe on campus so facilities operations can respond more quickly in snow emergencies.

“I think that study group and Lean Team is probably one of the most effective things that we’ve done in order to improve the way the university responds to a snow event,” McNary said.

With a campus of 1,200 acres, the campus planning department is also working to provide a good shuttle service and to support the pedestrian environment, according to McNary.

“We think developing a pedestrian campus is really important. It’s important to have students come to campus and stay in campus to interact, socialize and study with their peers, to create and do entrepreneurial things with their peers and with their professors,” McNary said. “The key to that educational experience is to create a campus that is very pedestrian-oriented.”

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