by Jeff Sykes | @jeffreysykes

A project to enhance pedestrian safety at the intersection of Walker Avenue and Aycock Street has been expanded after transportation planners conducted a safety assessment in April.

The busy intersection on the edge of the UNCG campus is a key crossing point for students coming from residential neighborhoods west of the university. Walker Avenue leads into the heart of campus, providing access to a major parking deck, Fleming Gym and the Elliott University Center. Some 20,000 vehicles and another 1,700 cyclists and pedestrians pass through the Walker/Aycock intersection during daytime hours.

City transportation documents label the Walker/Aycock intersection as “the most dangerous intersection for pedestrians in the City of Greensboro based on a composite crash frequency and severity score.” University officials strongly support the improvements, the document states.

GDOT planners had envisioned improving pedestrian safety there by reducing northbound traffic down from three lanes to two. The plan called for an expanded sidewalk width, thus reducing the distance pedestrians would need to cross Aycock Street.

About 40 people attended a meeting in April designed to give the public and transportation planners a chance to observe conditions at the intersection and to suggest improvements.

Daniel Amstutz, GDOT’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, told a transportation planning board last week that the group took about a half hour to walk the corridor back toward Spring Garden Street and observe traffic and pedestrian habits.

“Some changes that we made as a result of this assessment, particularly included the corridor,” Amstutz said. “We expanded the scope to go beyond the intersection itself, to look further down toward Spring Garden Street since that was something we noticed was happening. Students would cross at Cobb Street, at Morton Street, midblock or at those streets.”

Those observations align with traffic data the city collected in late 2013 showing that about 1,400 pedestrians crossed Aycock Street midblock each day. The new plan, presented to the Greensboro Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization for the first time last week, calls for a median to be placed in the middle of Aycock Street between Walker Avenue and Cobb Street. The median would begin across from the entrance to the College Park Baptist Church parking lot.

Funding for the expanded project would come from the Transportation Alternatives Program, a federal program that provides about $349,000 a year to the Greensboro MPO for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and Safe Routes to School projects.

Transportation board members, which include four from the Greensboro City Council, seemed satisfied with the suggested improvements but were concerned about the construction delays that would occur due to additional right of way needs.

Marikay Abuzuaiter, an at-large member of the Greensboro City Council, asked transportation planners if the project could be expedited.

“I know there have been a lot of mishaps there within the last six months, so is there any way this can be speeded up?” Abuzuaiter said.

GDOT’s Craig McKinney told the board that changes to the traffic signal at the intersection have already been made in order to improve pedestrian safety. New right of way acquisition and design approval will push the construction back until next summer.

Abuzuaiter asked if the city would have to pay UNCG for right of way, or if the university would be willing to cede the territory since it would benefit their students.

McKinney said there had been some discussion of right of way donation north of Walker along Aycock when the plan was to expand the sidewalk there. With the expanded project moving south toward Spring Garden Street, he was less certain.

“UNCG seems very supportive of this project,” McKinney said. “Hopefully they will cooperate with us, but if we do have to pay, we will have to find the funding to cover it.”

GDOT Director Adam Fischer explained that as a government agency the university had strict rules governing use of property.

“They are just like the city in that we can’t just give it away,” Fischer said. “You have to compensate for the property that we would need for the project.

They have to receive something.”

Board member and District 3 Greensboro City Council member Zack Matheny said the project would be a great enhancement, but wondered how it would be paid for and why the project couldn’t be coordinated with the planned replacement of the railroad bridge over Aycock Street near Lee Street. That project isn’t planned until 2019, an NCDOT representative told the board. City planners were adamant that the pedestrian improvements were urgent.

“We were just focused on the intersection because that’s where the actual pedestrian accidents had happened,” Fischer said. “When we did this assessment, and we walked the whole area, it became apparent real quick that those students are crossing all over the place here. We need to get them to a safe place. Luckily we haven’t had any accidents because they are crossing all over the place there. That’s when we decided we needed to expand this.”

Fischer said GDOT was in discussion with UNCG to put in enhanced landscaping, such as runs through campus along Spring Garden Street, to dissuade pedestrians from crossing midstreet.

“It would be more inconvenient,” Fischer said. “We’ve had some success on Spring Garden Street with the landscaping in the median. It’s pretty thick and has thorns in it that you wouldn’t want to try and cross through.” !