City council, staff discuss Lincoln Way pedestrian use

Maggie Curry

City Council heard a staff report Tuesday on pedestrian use of Lincoln Way in Campustown. For students, staff or residents of the area, the findings will not be a surprise.

Council took up only half the bench this week, with Mayor Ann Campbell and Council Member Nelson not present for the meeting. Council Member Orazem attended the meeting on the phone.

Staff reported to the council on moving the Lincoln Way Pedestrian Study from phase one to phase two. Phase one studied the area and determined that safety concerns were the result of pedestrian behavior. Phase two would allow the project team to look at solutions that could be implemented in the area.

Staff said the study came out of pressure to create a pedestrian bridge, a very expensive solution staff said would statistically get poor use. The study was to evaluate if there were problems, and if there were, what solutions could be found.

The study focused on pedestrian crossings, and how pedestrians interacted with other modes of transport. How the roads were constructed, signal timings, lighting and sight distance for vehicles and pedestrians were all studied. 

Looking at the engineering and design, or physical environment, the project consultant firm SRF found that everything met safety recommendations.

“The infrastructure as a whole is relatively sound, which I was pleased to learn,” ISU representative Kathy Brown said. 

But less than 50 percent of pedestrians complied with crossing signs and signals. 

What that came down to was the conclusion that corridor safety problems could be attributed to behavior, not design.


A video compilation was shown of examples of pedestrian use, taken from a day in 2016 with warmer temperatures. Staff was not certain of the exact date for the footage, although Betcher believed it was March 9, when the traffic would not be at its highest for warm weather, although Gartin said it was likely more typical for the academic year, which covers more winter weather than summer.

The video highlighted pedestrian use that looked for a gap in traffic to cross the street, even against the light, often using the median at low traffic times to cross part of the street before the other. Anyone who has lived in Ames or crossed Lincoln Way should not be surprised to hear that.

One question proposed was if a median was promoting non-compliance. If medians were intended for crossing assistance, crossing buttons must be placed on the median. Those are usually found on streets six lanes wide or wider.

Council Member Gloria Betcher was concerned, as a driver, about the number of students she saw falling off the median or spilling over the curb during crowded times.

“One of the scariest things about the corridor is the unpredictability,” Betcher said. “There are people in the street who don’t intend to be in the street.”

One concern was at Welch Avenue with the number of pedestrians crossing against the light, often on cell phones. City staff said students were carrying over “campus behavior” to the street, such as proximity to vehicles when roadways were not clear or the right of way was not the pedestrian’s.

Council Member Tim Gartin said he thought distracted walking and driving was an important issue with the increase of residences south of campus, and staff should look at other campuses for possible solutions. Staff said an awareness and educational campaign would be one of the suggestions for moving forward.

“I’m not overly confident any education program is going to change behaviors that have developed over a long period of time,” Betcher said.


Council Member Bronwyn Beatty-Hansen said that vehicle non-compliance should be part of the data, to see the full picture of interactions in the area. City staff said the consultant would have said something if it was a noticeable issue. Betcher also mentioned that speeding would count as vehicular non-compliance and affects safety.

Staff does have data observing speed in that area, with most drivers remaining at 35 or under, and also data that showed the gap between cars and the times of day where gaps would allow safe crossing.

The data averages speed in the area, including stopping at traffic lights. Using those traffic lights to control a car’s ability to speed through the area has been done by other communities to control safety for pedestrians, staff said. The data is continually collected 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, separate from the Lincoln Way study. 

Orazem brought up that in school zones speeds are reduced, but not near the campus, and the city should consider dropping the speed in the area. The north road on campus, Pammel Road, is reduced speed.

Staff said Lincoln Way, as one of the only east-west arterials, had higher traffic than usual school streets. Orazem argued that those who didn’t like the decreased speed would use different streets, either Mortensen Road, 13th Street or the highway.

The problem spots

Beatty-Hansen also asked about the crossing at Stanton Avenue, an area where the group did recommend changes. There is not a light at Stanton Avenue, but its use surprised the consultant and city staff.

Betcher questioned if the steps down to campus at Lake Laverne promoted crossing there, and if their removal would cause students to take other paths across Lincoln Way in other areas.

Brown said the stairs were there because it was a path students would create for themselves, so an additional barrier would have to be added in addition to possibly removing the steps.

City staff said that a light had previously been there, but that most traffic at the location was pedestrian, not vehicles, coming out of Stanton Avenue. That was not common for the rest of the area, since about 18,000 cars are on Lincoln Way each day, staff said.

Robert Bingham, ex-officio for Iowa State Student Government, questioned the intersections chosen for future changes, and Lynn Avenue not being chosen, which had more pedestrian traffic. Staff said there tended to be more accidents at the intersections at Welch and Stanton Avenues, which was part of the decision.

Ames Bicycle Coalition calls for a halt 

A resident spoke on behalf of the Ames Bicycle Coalition to reject moving the study to phase two. She advocated for complete streets, which promotes shared safe areas for vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians. She spoke in favor of previous times, when students could walk or bike to gradeschool, which created habits of incorporating physical activity in daily routines.

“Why didn’t the chicken cross the road? Because she was terrified,” she said. 

She said crossing Lincoln Way can be a place of fear for pedestrians, and that students and staff should bike or walk and that should be promoted on campus and by the city. She said in her dream world, Welch Avenue from the clock tower to Lincoln Way would be a pedestrian mall and there would be no right turn on red at each intersection. Both she and Betcher advocated for changes in the speed limit.

“We don’t really have an alternative,” Beatty-Hansen said. “Isn’t phase two better than nothing?”

Betcher questioned the value in funding the second phase if there were options that didn’t require funding or development that could be done. Staff said the value was in the longevity.

Beatty-Hansen asked staff if the second phase was timed poorly with complete-street efforts the city is working on.

“Does it seem like a waste to enter phase two until that’s done?” Beatty-Hansen said.

The council asked the staff to talk to the consultant about what can be sped up and what can be delayed on implementing changes.