Students crossing 15th Street

University of Wyoming students cross 15th Street on Sept. 25.

SHANNON BRODERICK/Boomerang photographer

University of Wyoming and city of Laramie officials hosted a number of listening sessions last week to try to determine whether 15th Street through campus should be closed to vehicular traffic.

The initiative to look at this possibility doesn’t come from UW or the city. This is all the result of a footnote in UW’s budget instructing the school to meet with the Laramie 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 requires UW to report to the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee by Nov. 1 “regarding the findings, costs and impacts, including possible mitigation actions, of the plan.”

As a result, many hours of work and research have gone into this project. While the Legislature didn’t ask for reactions of residents, faculty or students, UW and the city decided to make that part of the report as well.

These listening meetings, as well as the opportunity for people to express their ideas online or in other written form, show an admirable commitment to participative government. We believe these comments are at least as important as the information the Legislature requested, if not more so.

That’s particularly true considering there have been no serious accidents, injuries or other problems with traffic and pedestrians in that stretch of 15th Street for a number of years. Accidents can and do happen on streets, but there is no pattern to suggest 15th Street is particularly dangerous. Nor have there been complaints, confrontations or reported incidents that would make this issue a priority on most agendas. If safety is the main reason to consider the street’s closure, would such a move create more problems by cutting off access for emergency responders?

This whole discussion is worth having and could well lead to improvements in safety, but whatever is done should be as simple and user friendly as possible. Expensive and extreme options such as completely closing the street, elevated pedestrian bridges and subterranean walkways should be taken off the table. None of this is needed or even useful at this point. Frankly, most of those ideas are not remotely feasible given Wyoming’s weather, the need to accommodate the disabled and the tendency of pedestrians to detour around ramps and obstacles.

Many people who drive 15th Street regularly report few problems despite the large number of pedestrians. Most drivers are cautious, courteous and obey the 20 mph speed limit, and pedestrians are generally alert and aware of their surroundings. Most report they tend to experience many more problems and close calls with pedestrians and other motorists at the intersection of Grand Avenue and 15th Street than they ever do in the blocks that would be closed.

Many Laramie drivers tend to use other streets during busy times of the day. That’s partially because of pedestrians and partially because of the lower speed limit.

The whole question of unifying the campus, which appears to be the other concern in the Legislature, is much harder to even define. But the statements from students at the listening sessions suggest 15th Street isn’t the problem as much as physical proximity. It makes sense a substantial distance between buildings has more to do with unity than a street.

We think the city and the university have responded well and professionally to this problem. As a result, it doesn’t appear as though there is a tendency to overreact and take needless action.

The true question is: Do we have a problem on 15th Street or do we have some legislators who want to meddle?

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