Student rep on city council shares thoughts on Lincoln Way study

Maggie Curry

City Council debated a staff report last night on the data gathered from the first phase of the Lincoln Way Pedestrian Study. Robert Bingham, ex-officio for Student Government, had a front-row seat to the discussion, as he sits next to the council members to offer student input on city decisions.

“It was enlightening. It concerned a lot of preconceived notions I had,” Bingham said. “Pedestrian interaction on campus is a very important issue, whether its in campus itself or in Campustown.”

The council voted to go on with phase two, but they’re allowing for leniency in the timeline to coincide with a complete-streets policy currently being drafted.

The discussion that proceeded that decision was led by city staff, who shared the research findings from observing the area. The study was met with a mixed reception.

“They focused more on the deviation from compliance, which is important, we want to minimize that so people are safer,” Bingham said.

But that wasn’t the pedestrian focus that Bingham, and the Ames Bicycle Coalition, was looking for.

“The Coalition had a very strongly worded email, it said ‘hey, you need to have a more cooperative look, how can we have vehicles and pedestrians interact with each other in a more symbiotic way,'” Bingham said.

“The thing I care more about is the public safety aspect, that students can cross from one side to the other a) without having to worry about being hit by a car and b) not having to worry about waiting for walking or not walking,” Bingham said.

Bingham was in favor of the suggestions the city put forward to look into timing changes for the lights, but wants the scope of the changes to apply to the whole area. Right now the group is developing changes to implement at Stanton Avenue and Welch Avenue.

“I want to see them expand it to Lynn [Avenue], because Lynn is probably the most traveled street of most streets [in that area],” Bingham said. “That’s just my opinion on it. I do agree with the direction the council is going on this, I think that phase two is important to continue on the study, ISU’s obviously on board with it. I’m eager to see where this goes.”

The data showed that Lynn Avenue had the most pedestrian traffic at its peak. When Bingham brought up Lynn at the meeting, city staff member Damion Pregitzer told him they didn’t want to “eat the whole apple” but “take a bite at a time.”

“Lynn is a difficult intersection. You have all the lanes, the MU, Starbucks right on the corner… it’s a very difficult one to crack,” Bingham said. “I understand they want to try things on a smaller intersection.”

Despite that, Bingham hopes that results will be brought back quickly so Lynn Avenue can see the effects.

One controversy at the meeting was the use of data collected on March 9, 2016 to base decisions on about pedestrian use in the areas. Council Member Gloria Betcher felt the date was too cold for peak use, which is what the city should plan for.

“I’m not as troubled about that March 9 date,” Bingham said.

Bingham was more concerned with what data they were collecting. He wasn’t part of the initial conversations around phase one, which was under a different ex-officio. Bingham wanted to focus on students who crossed the street in two stages, or who were on cell phones.

The council did talk about the two-stage crossing, and staff did pose the question that medians may promote that kind of crossing. The actual activity of students came down to a personal gauge of risk. If they thought they weren’t going to get hit, they crossed.

“They’re thinking about ‘where am I going and how can I get there as quickly as possible,'” Bingham said. “Safety comes in as a second.”

One example of this kind of mindset is the joke among students that getting hit is just free tuition.

“In my opinion, that’s very unhealthy,” Bingham said.

“Drivers are people too. Just because you’re walking across the street, and pedestrians have right of way, doesn’t mean you have to be unsafe about it.”

One way city staff wants to combat the behavior is with an educational campaign. As a public relations student, Bingham recognizes the importance of an educational campaign. But he doesn’t think it will ultimately be successful in changing set behavior. Any campaign on campus about behavior should be met with a campaign for other citizens too, Bingham said.

“Our university prides itself on being a walking community,” Bingham said. “The perception of the city as a whole of Campustown, especially on Lincoln Way, is very negative.”

Another suggested solution was lowering the posted speed limit in the area, similar to how speed is dropped near grade schools. Although one concern was Lincoln Way being a main street traveling east-west in Ames, Council Member Peter Orazem thought it was worth it.

“The reasons school zones are decreased [speed] is because little kids don’t have the judgement to know ‘hey, I’m not going to cross right now,'” Bingham said. “As adults we are expected to cross streets and know when and where not to cross.

There’s a risk attached to driving in Campustown and there’s a risk attached to walking in Campustown.”