As N.C. State University continues its southward shift with the expansion of Centennial campus, the number of pedestrians and cyclists using Western Boulevard will only multiply.
Here’s the problem: car traffic is increasing, too.
The recent makeover of Hillsborough Street, which narrowed the road, pushed more motorists toward Western Boulevard, a wider, higher-speed thoroughfare that bisects Centennial and N.C. State’s main campus.
The result is closer encounters among cars, pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders on a corridor already known for congestion.
Now a possible solution is under review. Traffic planners are gauging support for a pedestrian bridge or tunnel that would allow students to cross Western Boulevard without having to dodge oncoming cars. Though not a new concept, the idea will get a new round of consideration from the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, which held a workshop last week to discuss safety and traffic concerns on Western Boulevard. CAMPO is a local board that ranks Wake’s transportation needs.
“The idea has been out there for 20 years and just never found its funding,” said Tom Kendig, the university’s director of transportation.
Students suggest bridge
The tunnel or bridge is envisioned at the intersection of Western and Avent Ferry Road, a popular crossing spot for thousands of students.
Asked for their preference during the workshop, many students recommended a well-lit, open-air bridge. They called it a safer option, particularly for women traveling alone or at night.
N.C. State has three pedestrian tunnels under the railroad tracks that cut across campus, but the Western Boulevard version would be off-campus near shopping centers and apartment complexes.
The bridge option raises concern for traffic planners. The intersection sits at the top of a hill, meaning travelers already weary from an uphill journey would have to climb a ramp or set of stairs to access the bridge.
No decision is expected soon. CAMPO will hold more workshops and focus groups to gather options. And then there’s the money question. Paying for the project, which does not have a price tag, would likely involve a partnership between CAMPO and N.C. State.
Whatever the decision, students said the traffic problems on Western Boulevard deserve attention.
“I’m constantly having to stop in the middle of the intersection to avoid pedestrians,” said Andrew Korhonen, a 2006 graduate who now works in the theater department. “And then you’ve got the buses traveling through there. There are definitely some issues.”
Ten pedestrian-related and four bicycle-related accidents have ben recorded in the past five years, none of which involved fatalities.
But that’s no reason to wait, says Joel Oliver, a community director for E.S. King Village and Western Manor residence halls.
“All you need is one death and it’ll happen instantly,” Oliver said. “I hate this is something that’s not being addressed sooner.”
The study area focuses on Western Boulevard between Varsity Drive and Pullen Road, the section closest to the campus.
“Everyone agrees that Western is designed to be the thru-traffic street,” said City Councilman Russ Stephenson. “It is more of a parkway. But because of the proximity to the pedestrians at N.C. State, it’s sort of a unique stretch of the road.”