The ongoing discussion into the contentious possible closure of a main thoroughfare through the University of Wyoming campus might continue in Cheyenne, once the university submits its legislatively mandated report to the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee by Nov. 1.
In its current draft, the report does not propose any action on the Legislature’s part, instead cautioning that more assessment is needed of a closure’s impact on pedestrian safety, campus unification and neighboring streets.
“Any sort of suggestion along the lines of a possible vacation of 15th Street deserves far more study and far more examination than is possible without, candidly, time and funding — neither of which were provided in this budget footnote,” UW Vice President for Governmental and Community Affairs Chris Boswell told the Board of Trustees during a meeting Wednesday.
The report comes after multiple public listening sessions were hosted both on- and off-campus, during which members of the community almost unanimously spoke out against the possible closure.
Boswell said only one of the roughly 70 people who spoke during the listening sessions was decidedly supportive of closing the street.
“For what it’s worth, the comments in the public hearings … were overwhelmingly opposed to the vacation of 15th Street,” Boswell said. “That’s no surprise.”
The report details concerns raised by the community during those forums — such as fears closing 15th Street would disrupt access from one side of the city to the other, divide Laramie while uniting the campus and push traffic to Ninth and 22nd streets, which border campus.
During the board meeting, Trustee Kermit Brown said neither of these alternative streets could handle increased traffic in their current forms.
“I have great reservations that Ninth Street can stand the additional load that would be thrown on it,” Brown said. “And if it’s thrown down there, we’re going to have the same pedestrian-crossing issues at Ninth Street that we have at 15th Street. And so, I don’t know that we rid ourselves of pedestrian crossing issues and problems by closing 15th Street.”
In March, the Legislature used a footnote attached to the university’s budget to direct UW to meet with city officials about this potential closure and submit a report to the Joint Appropriations Committee by Nov. 1.
The footnote provided two justifications for the potential closure, vacation or modification of the stretch of 15th Street between Ivinson Avenue and Willett Drive: improvement of pedestrian safety and unification of campus.
Community members doubt either goal could be accomplished by a street closure, according to the draft report, which also points out that in the past decade, only six traffic accidents involving pedestrians were reported on the stretch of 15th Street between Willett Drive and Grand Avenue.
All traffic accidents in the area — both involving and not involving pedestrians — sharply decreased in recent years, Boswell told the board.
“There have been changes to 15th Street — changes to traffic patterns, traffic lanes and, most importantly, the speed limit on 15th (to 20 mph) — in recent years,” he said. “And it was roughly in 2015 that most of those changes were effected.”
Boswell said there were 11 traffic accidents reported in the area during 2014 before the changes went into effect. He added there were four accidents reported in 2016 and 2017 combined.
“I just think that’s relevant to all of this and should be added to the report once it’s provided to the appropriations committee.”
The draft report also reflects community skepticism about the goal of campus unification.
“Unification of campus is a more complex issue than that which is addressed by the footnote,” the draft report reads, in a section summarizing community comments. “Simple proximity issues — distance of east campus from other parts of the traditional campus — are likely more significant than the presence of traffic on 15th Street.”
Brown, who attended one of the listening sessions, said he heard this concern firsthand.
“They came back and said, ‘By closing 15th Street, you’re doing the opposite: You’re dividing our community,’” Brown said. “And I think there was a good deal of resentment that the university would divide this community.”