University News

Green light means go for Angell and Waterman

Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The University is partnering with the City of Providence to upgrade most of the traffic lights on Angell and Waterman streets. The project, which will “significantly reduce congestion,” is underway and will be completed over the summer, said Michael McCormick, assistant vice president for planning, design and construction.

The lights on both streets between North Main Street to Wayland Square have lost synchronization, causing congestion during peak hours, according to McCormick.
“It should be synchronized in such a way that you can pass all the way through that corridor at a reasonable speed without stopping,” he said. “All these lights need to be hooked together to do that.”

The improvements were conceived four years ago in the transportation component of Brown’s Institutional Master Plan, which was approved by the Providence City Plan Commission in July 2006. The University hired transportation consulting firm Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. to prepare the transportation component. 

While the lights were originally synchronized with internal clocks, the firm conducted a field review in September 2005 and found they had slowly lost their coordination over time.
“Say you were going 30 miles per hour; you would still end up stopping at all the lights,” McCormick said.

In the transportation component of the Plan, published in April 2006, the firm called the progression of vehicles traveling on Angell and Waterman “poor” with the signals causing “unnecessary delays to both vehicles and pedestrians throughout the day.”

The firm singled out the light coordination where Waterman and Angell streets meet Benefit Street as particularly “deficient” during peak hours.

The firm advised the University to upgrade the signal timing mechanisms in partnership with the city’s Traffic Engineering Department.

In a notice of approval dated August 10, 2006, the commission stated, “The cost of upgrading traffic signals to allow for synchronization shall be born by Brown University.” But according to McCormick, the University and the city ultimately reached an agreement in which each will pay for half of the project’s costs.

McCormick said the new lights will be connected through a wireless mesh network that will ensure long-term coordination. The signals will also include vehicle detection sensors that will make intersections more efficient.

“By allowing traffic to flow without having to stop, it creates gaps where cars and people can cross,” he said. “And at 2 a.m., if there is no car coming in the other direction, it won’t turn red.”

In 2005, the firm completed traffic and pedestrian counts at intersections on College Hill. The firm projected what those counts would be in five years following the completion of various construction projects stipulated in the master plan, including the renovations of J. Walter Wilson and the construction of the Walk connecting Lincoln Field with Pembroke campus.

The University constructed traffic lights where the Walk intersects Angell and Waterman streets, McCormick said.

“We asked them to look specifically at the Walk that was being proposed at the time and its pedestrian crossings,” McCormick said. “They found a lot of congestion on Angell and Waterman, and we were going to introduce something that could, in fact, make it worse.”
The firm also measured traffic flows in and out of campus and found that most cars traveling on Angell and Waterman streets do not stop at the University.

“They are coming from East Providence and going downtown,” McCormick said. “This is basically a through corridor.”

In 2005, the firm projected just over 500 pedestrians per hour would be crossing Waterman and Angell streets in the afternoon in 2010. The University recently hired the firm to re-examine the pedestrian crossings at heavy intersections and determine whether its projections turned out to be true.

In this new study, which will begin next month, the firm will also conduct a “broad overview of the campus to look at individual pedestrian crossings and specifically the ones where we’ve had incidents,” McCormick said.

He added that the firm will likely consult with the newly-formed pedestrian safety review committee, which began meeting in March.

The committee was created last month in the wake of two serious accidents that “raised sensitivity and awareness about pedestrian safety on campus,” the committee’s co-chair and Senior Vice President for Corporation Affairs and Governance Russell Carey ’91 MA’06 said at a faculty meeting, The Herald reported on March 4.

On Feb.12, Avi Schaefer ’13 was killed by a drunken driver at the intersection of Hope and Thayer streets, where there is no traffic signal. Nine days later, Erinn Phelan ’09 and Alma Guerrero ’09 MD’13 were seriously injured in a hit-and-run crash in New York City.
In an e-mail to The Herald, Carey wrote that the current signal improvements “will result in a smoother passage of vehicles along two major streets passing through the Brown campus.”

“We anticipate the improvements will benefit both drivers and pedestrians,” he wrote.
The committee has split into two groups, according to Carey. One will focus on “education, awareness and enforcement” while the other will look at “campus infrastructure, which includes traffic signals, signage, pedestrian crossings and curb cuts,” he wrote.

Members consist of students, faculty and administrators, including McCormick and Director of Public Safety Mark Porter. The committee is co-chaired by Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Margaret Klawunn.

The committee meets every several weeks and hopes to develop recommendations by the end of the semester, according to Carey.

“The goal would be to have those (completed) by sometime next fall,” McCormick said.
“It’s always important to stay on top of things like pedestrian safety,” he added. “They just need constant vigilance.”

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