Courtesy photograph

Democratic District 1 City Council candidate Greg Alexander wants to put Bloomington's hazardous 17th Street corridor on a diet and make it more reflective of the neighborhoods that now surround it.

It is time for 17th Street to go on a diet. More than a decade ago, it served as a primary connection between Ellettsville and Bloomington. Accordingly, it was designed primarily for through traffic. It has wide car lanes, no sidewalks, inconsistent shoulders, intimidating and dangerous intersections, and a low level of commercial development.

Times have changed! Traffic has declined substantially. Dense residential developments are on both sides of 17th street. Thousands of students cross 17th street on foot each day. But the streetscape is still an uninviting nightmare for pedestrians.

This is a prime opportunity for an urban revitalization project known as a "road diet." Can you imagine restaurants flourishing along 17th street? What about walking a dog along 17th street to reach the Miller-Showers park? Would cyclists and joggers willingly use 17th street? Could people loiter on 17th street, taking in the sights of a living city?

It would only take a modest improvement project to make these dreams into a reality. First and foremost, we need sidewalks. And we need to slightly reduce the width of the lanes. The distance for pedestrians crossing 17th street at intersections also needs to be reduced. A few finishing touches like tree plots and painted crosswalks, and we'd see a new phenomenon.

Traffic would move just a little slower -- say a target of 25 mph. Then it will be a safe and inviting place for pedestrians. As we have seen with the already-crowded B-line trail -- if you build it, they will come. Before you know it, businesses would be fighting for the opportunity to be exposed to so many customers.

The best news is that we already have the money! But the powers that be want to waste it on projects with a much lower bang for your buck.
"My opponent, Chris Sturbaum, is in the process of trying to ram through even more improvements to the small stretch of West Third street that runs through Prospect Hill."
For example, there is a roundabout project at the intersection of 17th and Monroe Streets. Roundabouts in Bloomington have been very convenient to drivers, but they present difficulty for pedestrians and cyclists. They are also extraordinarily expensive -- $4.2 million has already been set aside for this one intersection! That's enough money to install two miles of sidewalk! For the cost of this one over-designed intersection, we could change the character of an entire street.

Yes, something needs to be done about that intersection, but literally every single alternative is drastically less expensive than the oversized roundabout that the Engineering Department has suggested. Large roundabouts are the most expensive intersection design ever considered within the city of Bloomington, by a margin of 300 percent! We're burning nearly our entire urban transportation improvement budget on three roundabouts!

There is further money in the Neighborhood Transportation Safety Program.

My opponent, Chris Sturbaum, is in the process of trying to ram through even more improvements to the small stretch of West Third street that runs through Prospect Hill. Surely there are higher priorities somewhere than still more work for this one little road? Even Prospect Hill neighbors have begun to speak up, fearing that excessive traffic calming on West Third Street will merely displace the traffic onto West Fourth.

It is time to get serious about building for the pedestrian in all of our city's neighborhoods. We have seen time and again that building an inviting streetscape near dense neighborhoods is a tremendous blessing for our community. Pedestrian-oriented projects are not expensive when compared to business as usual.

Why are we wasting so much attention on one idyllic street within Prospect Hill?

Why is our Engineering Department committed to the most expensive form of intersection for cars while so many prime corridors are missing sidewalks?


For more information
* Video - Traffic priorities: 17th street vs. roundabouts
* Greg Alexander for City Council District 1, 812-391-3535, greg@vote4greg.org