There was a buzz on the bluff last night. A public forum was held at Bradley University’s Westlake Hall regarding the proposal of making the intersection of Main and University streets in Peoria more pedestrian friendly. It seems there has been a push in the recent months of making things more walkable, bikeable, and more equitable for people who are moving around town sans auto.
What spurred this conversation is more of a happy accident than a true, dedicated effort to make things better for pedestrians [Water Main Break]. Either way, take what you can get. It was a full house of concerned neighbors, business owners, and people who are tired of Peoria being stuck in the proverbial four-wheeled rut. Local officials, engineers, and public administrators filled in the rest of the crowd.
It became clear from the start, that the public’s input was not only appreciated but much-needed. The intersection today is pretty dangerous, and almost completely favors the car as you can see on the Google map view.
Just looking at the curbs, they are rounded, which if you think about it, makes it quicker and easier for you to make a turn. The faster you do that, the faster you can hit someone on foot or on bike. The sidewalks are compromised, and there are no bike lanes to speak of. When thinking of how to “fix” this intersection, the best way is to bring everyone into the room and see how they actually use this space.
To better conceptualize the intersection for people, there were 3 options of proposed options. Making things difficult is that these three options are all different in their concepts and thus, you force people to love it or hate it (see roundabout discussion).
To me, this meeting was a breath of fresh air. Mike Rogers, the new Public Works Director and new to town, brought up old plans like the Heart of Peoria Plan and even the Walkable West Bluff Campaign. By old, we’re talking 10 years ago, but still are extremely relevant to last night’s conversation These efforts were to create a vibrant atmosphere that encouraged walkability, bikeability, and to induce neighborhood regeneration by reducing auto-dependency and increased human interaction.
Over the past 2 years, the revival happening on Main Street cannot go unnoticed. It has seen a revival, in part, due to adding on-street parking which as traffic school teaches us, actually slows down traffic and gives businesses parking for its patrons. We’re so trained at wanting to go fast and breeze through wherever we are driving to or through, that we don’t want anything to get in the way. As a whole, what high-speed traffic had done to Main Street, and Peoria in general, was remove the desire for anyone to get out of their car.
As one commentor put it:
We want Main Street to be a destination that people come to and spend time, enjoy it – not just drive through it.
Which is very true. Somewhere in our history, 50 or 60 years ago, we stopped creating places people want to go and spend time at. We have built our streets and buildings to be high capacity, high speed ways to get people in and out – usually at the lowest cost. This oldie, but goodie TEDTalk by James Kunstler spells this out very clearly.
Main Street has that ability to be a place that people care about. They already do judging by the turnout last night. People showed up literally and figuratively to say so. The comments made were awesome. Even without a roundabout pamphlet professing safety, we know we want things to be safe. When we show them images with people, trees, flowers and texture they get excited. Show them a car sewer and the mood goes down.
Let’s make not only this intersection great for people, but the entire street and the neighborhoods that they serve. It’s easy and what it takes is to put cars in their place. Pedestrians, bikers, buses, delivery trucks, then cars. I will guarantee you that this area will continue to revitalize and that there will be more and more activity in this part of town. It will set the precedent for other areas around town that are going to have the same conversation. Within a short amount of time, Peoria can rebuild around its people, not their cars.
For more coverage on last night’s meeting view the links below:
Thank you to everyone who came out and shared their thoughts!