HARRISONBURG — They’ve tried going underground. Now, James Madison University and Harrisonburg officials are going up high to keep students out of traffic on South Main Street.
On Tuesday, City Council received an update on a planned raised median to be built along South Main, between Bluestone Drive and Grace Street, from Drew Williams, the assistant director of the Harrisonburg Public Works Department.
The project is meant to prevent students from crossing South Main Street midblock — essentially jaywalking — from around Anthony-Seeger Hall to JMU’s main campus near the Quad.
JMU and Harrisonburg will share the cost of the estimated $300,000 project, but a breakdown on how much each pays has yet to be made. Construction will begin this summer and should be finished before students return in August.
The median will include a fence and landscaping. The fence will stand about 4 feet and, when coupled with the landscaping through the median, will be “tough” for students who want to climb over it, Williams said Wednesday.
To remove foot traffic from South Main in 2008, JMU finished a $4 million pedestrian tunnel underneath the roadway that connected the Quad to what was then the construction site of the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts, which opened in 2010.
The median project became a part of the city’s comprehensive plan in 2011, yet the need for it has increased this academic year. City officials sent a letter to JMU Police Chief Lee Shifflett last month concerned with “hundreds of students” crossing the street midblock.
Neither Harrisonburg nor Virginia prohibits jaywalking, but state code does say that when pedestrians cross highways, they should not “carelessly or maliciously” interfere with traffic.
In response to the letter, JMU installed temporary digital signs encouraging students to use the tunnel or the crosswalk at the intersection of South Main and Grace streets. Also, campus police officers were assigned to the area to promote safety.
But those measures were not considered long-term fixes, as the median would be.
While there have been no recent reports of pedestrians being hit by a car while crossing South Main midblock, city officials are concerned that without a permanent fix, the potential is high for such a collision.
Banks also notes that foot traffic will increase when JMU completes work on a 500-bed student residence hall on Walnut Lane, near where the median is planned. The residence hall is expected to be finished in time for the 2014-15 school year.
Bridgewater Made Similar Move
The median project takes a page somewhat from improvements the Virginia Department of Transportation made in Bridgewater along Dinkel Avenue through Bridgewater College’s campus.
Improvements finished last year included a stamped median and stamped crosswalks to look and feel like bricks. Bump-outs and landscaping are also there.
The measures were designed to slow traffic as well as direct students to crosswalks.
Concerns about student pedestrian safety in Bridgewater go back to 1997, when a student was struck by a car near campus — not on Dinkel — and died the next day in surgery.
Bill Miracle, BC’s dean of students, said the most-recent improvements have been effective.
“That visual of seeing that wide median, [drivers] see that before they see that 35 mph sign,” he said. “Any time you narrow the roadway, traffic automatically slows down.”
Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or firstname.lastname@example.org