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Cascade reconstruction takes next step

September 27, 2007

A public meeting to discuss a project that will have a major impact on UW-River Falls was sparsely attended by students.

The meeting was held Sept. 24 to discuss the future of Cascade Avenue. Cascade Avenue is among the most crucial streets for UW-River Falls.

The avenue requires maintenance work due to its poor condition. The problems include: road deterioration, dysfunctional street lights, a need to repair city storm sewers, a lack of parking spaces, as well as a number of other problems that are in need of attention.

Furthermore, River Falls residents, faculty and students have expressed their concerns regarding safety for pedestrians and also for motorists driving down Cascade. Many pedestrians neglect to utilize the crosswalks designated for crossing. This causes safety hazards because of the numerous pedestrians that cross the street in random locations resulting in near miss accidents along the campus avenue.

“Cascade Avenue is frustrating because you never know when to walk or when a car sees you,” Nick Zeien, a UWRF sophomore, said. “Sometimes it’s a big inconvenience for the cars to wait and sometimes it doesn’t feel safe for us to cross the street.”

As a result of the aforementioned issues, a committee was created to discuss possible solutions and alternatives to the current situation on Cascade Avenue. In order for the planning to begin, the city of River Falls had to consolidate with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT), UWRF, and River Falls’ residents.

The technical committee that was formed consists of: Reid Wronski, city engineer, Dale Braun, UWRF campus planner, Jeff Abboud, WisDOT transportation planner, Buddy Lucero, City of River Falls planner, Roger Leque, River Falls chief of police, Dick Trende, UWRF director of public safety, H.L “Lanny” Gleason River Falls superintendent of public works, Glen Van Wormer, project manager and Dave Simons, project coordinator.

Multiple options discussed for redesign

Currently, the technical committee is focusing upon designing a conceptualized plan for safety using the input provided by River Falls’ community members. With that input in mind, the team has brainstormed the following strategies with the potential to be implemented along Cascade Avenue from Spruce Street to Wasson Lane.

The “All Way Stop” concept is to place a four way stop sign on one of the intersections crossing into Cascade. The only intersection that this concept could be made possible is at 2nd Street. The drawback to this idea is that several people roll through stop signs instead of completing a proper stop. Furthermore, it is predicted that people awaiting their turn at the stop sign will be too focused on when they should go, that they will forget to watch for pedestrians.

The second potential plan is to close one block of Cascade Avenue to influence cars to take alternative routes. The elimination of a block would reduce the pace of traffic and remove the confrontation pedestrians face with motorists. This would be done at North Hall. The downside to this particular plan is that traffic on other streets would increase significantly, the time it takes to travel in River Falls would increase, and finding a parking space would be even more difficult. The committee has also considered closing down Cascade Avenue at several different locations besides the block near North Hall.

Another approach that was sought was to close certain north and south streets. This could decrease traffic flow on bordering streets and lessen the number of cars driving searching for parking. The street that would work best for this approach is Third Street. However, it is doubtful that Third Street would be used often since Second Street serves as a connector between Division Street and Cascade Avenue.

A fourth proposal is to turn Cascade into a four lane street, create a raised median, use left turn lanes, but eliminate parking on both sides of the street. Any traffic delays that occur because of motorists making left turns will decrease since traffic will continue to flow in the additional lane. Complications with pedestrians crossing four lanes of traffic are the concerns with this certain plan. An estimated 93 parking spots are used between 6th Street and Spruce Street. These parking spots would not be available if this plan was implemented. However, variations of this plan utilize two lanes, medians, left turn lanes, pedestrian barriers, and to keep parking on one or both sides of Cascade.

Another idea that the committee is working on is lower the grade on Cascade. This plan could be done several different ways and in different places. If the avenue’s grade was lowered for even one block, it would let pedestrians cross on bridges over the lowered street. This lessens pedestrian/motorist conflicts and could beautify the campus by lessening parked cars or traffic. This runs into complications with sanitation systems and snow removal. Parking would also be eliminated on Cascade Avenue unless the road was widened, which would result in a cost increase. The elimination of parking would take away 94 parking spaces. There is the possibility 35 additional spaces could be made available.

Other solutions such as pedestrian bridges or tunnels would provide a positive resolution by giving pedestrians a safe place to walk without interfering with traffic. It has been observed that many pedestrians tend to neglect utilizing bridges and tunnels and instead cross the actual road instead. The people who cross the road instead of using the alternatives are at a greater risk of danger because motorists are less likely to expect them. With both of these options, traffic flow would move at a significantly steadier pace. The committee also discussed possible problems that may arise with storm water management, snow, littering, graffiti, lighting, and ventilation.

Roundabouts have also been considered and have proven to be beneficial in the past. They will lessen the delays at intersections and studies have shown that roundabouts have been the cause for 40 percent less crashes, according to information on the City of River Falls Web site. This alternative forces cars to slow down as they drive through the roundabout and thus, allows them to be more conscientious of pedestrians. This will not work at all intersections and again, would reduce parking spaces. Also, any driveways near the roundabouts would be removed.

If traffic signals were implemented, this has benefits and drawbacks. If it works, traffic flow will remain steady. However, many cars focus on the color of the light instead of people walking. Also, many pedestrians neglect to wait for the “Walk” light to appear and instead cross the street whenever they want.

Panel disappointed with lack of student response to project

With these conceptual ideas in debate, the committee has called for two public meetings to discuss potential plans of action. They purposely held the meeting in the University Center to make it convenient for students to attend. Two students in attended the meeting on Monday and they were required to do so because of a class. The committee expressed disappointment in the student attendance since Cascade Avenue affects all students at UWRF, whether it concerns pedestrian safety, driving, or parking.

Braun was especially disappointed. He stressed the importance of student feedback and says to plan for at least a year’s construction period. During the time of construction, detours will be utilized, parking will not be available, and overall, it will be an inconvenience. This should be especially important to students, Braun said. He encourages more student involvement in the planning process and hopes to hear of their experiences on Cascade.

“I’ve heard from the community,” Braun said. “Now I need to hear from the students.”

The initial cost of the project was estimated at $1-2 million in maintenance alone, Braun said.

Depending on the plan chosen, there could be additional costs for students. Braun encouraged students to step forward and express their concerns for the campus road. “Hearing from students provides a good background as we search for a solution,” he said.

The next meeting is Nov. 26 and the committee hopes to have a more refined, conceptual plan. They also hope to have the plan in effect in the next five years. 

“What we need to hear is the students’ experiences on Cascade Avenue,” Braun said. “If they’re frustrated, if they’ve almost hit a pedestrian, if they’ve almost been hit by a car.”

Additional information, can be found on the River Falls City website at http://www.rfcity.org. Also, Braun encourages students to stop by his office at 102 North Hall with questions and concerns.