After two public listening sessions, not a single person has come forward in support of a plan to close 15th Street between Willett Drive and Ivinson Avenue.
The University of Wyoming was requested by a footnote in the state’s 2017 supplemental budget to meet with the City Council about the “need for vacating 15th Street between East Willett Drive and East Ivinson (Avenue) to unify the campus and protect pedestrian traffic.”
The footnote also stated UW would need to present a report to the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee by Nov. 1 “regarding the findings, costs and impacts, including possible mitigation actions, of the plan.”
To facilitate the Legislature’s requests, the City Council and UW are hosting four public listening sessions to gather public opinions about the options for vacating 15th Street.
As of Wednesday, about 33 people representing UW faculty, students and Laramie residents provided public comment on the potential closure of 15th Street during public listening sessions.
But the request has yet to find supportive voice in the Laramie community other than Associated Students of the University of Wyoming President Ben Wetzel, who participated in hosting the sessions, rather than submitting public comment.
“It’s no surprise that this side of campus is not necessarily part of what is called main campus,” Wetzel said at a listening session Wednesday in the UW College of Law building. “I often see students … posting on social media, making jokes about being a normal kid today or on normal campus. I think it’s really interesting that we have divisions on our campus that secluded by a physical dividing line (15th Street).”
Wetzel also said addressing 15th Street could provide students with safer walking conditions.
“I don’t think anyone would necessarily argue there are some sort of need for change on 15th Street for the safety and the access between the two halves of campus,” he said.
However, several residents came forward to argue just that point.
“I went to high school here a long time ago,” Clay Lilley told Wetzel and the City Council during the first public listening session Tuesday. “At that time, me and my friends walked that corridor often and we were not scared at all. Lately, I’ve had a lot of business on campus, and I’ve watched students walking across (15th Street) relaxed and with earbuds in, so they can’t be that scared.”
At Wednesday’s listening session, UW student Thomas Garvie said he didn’t view 15th Street as a safety concern requiring immediate attention.
“I understand that whenever you are talking about significant amounts of students, there’s a safety issue,” Garvie said. “But, at least in my time here, I haven’t seen any reason to believe there is a more significant safety issue there. I haven’t heard stories of anybody being hit by cars or being apprehensive of that.”
He added his lack of knowledge did not prove incidents had never happened.
“And yeah, we are separated,” Garvie said addressing campus unification. “But, I don’t think it has anything to do with the street there. I think it’s a proximity issue. We’re just not close enough. I don’t think you’re going to solve that by shutting down traffic through 15th.”
While some UW faculty, staff, students and Laramie residents spoke in favor of options that could increase pedestrian safety, others suggested the pedestrians could take measures to increase their own safety such as taking steps to be more aware of their surroundings.
For many, the problem was not 15th Street, but legislative overreach.
“This whole thing seems a little heavy handed,” UW faculty member and Laramie resident Joe Holles said Wednesday. “Cheyenne sure finds a way to complain when they think Washington is telling us what to do in Wyoming, and yet, they don’t have a problem telling us what to do in Laramie.”
Other people pointed out that while closing 15th Street might help unify the campus, it would divide the city.
“You talked about dividing the university, but if you close 15th Street, you divide the town,” Laramie resident Peggy McCrackin said Tuesday. “Sometimes, the university forgets it’s part of Laramie.”
Laramie Police Department Officer Louis Cirillo said closing the thoroughfare would make emergency response difficult for first responders.
“We have already dealt with Lewis (Street) being shut down, which was one of the best east-west crossings for us to stay off Grand (Avenue),” Cirillo said. “I am against closing 15th (Street). Please do not make our job harder to respond to the citizens and the students in our great city.”
The contentious footnote even failed to gain support from the Senate, failing 30-0 on the Senate floor this spring, UW Vice President for Government Affairs Chris Boswell said.
“The university is not pushing a particular option other than we keep talking and listening to the constituents,” Boswell said.
Mayor Andi Summerville said the City Council has not taken a stance on the subject other than to gather public opinion on the matter.
Additional public listening sessions are slated for 12:30 p.m. Thursday at the Wyoming Union Senate Chambers and 11 a.m. at the Laramie Community Recreation Center, 920 Boulder Drive.