Walnut-College study contract OK’d by Bloomington board of works, could tackle two-way question

A new conceptual design for College Avenue and Walnut Street—from the 45/46 bypass to Allen Street—is supposed to be delivered to the city of Bloomington by the end of 2023.

Allen Street is south of the place where College and Walnut merge into a single street—it’s a bit north of Switchyard Park.

The conceptual redesign for the corridor is just one of the elements that Toole Design Group is supposed to provide under a $170,000 contract that was approved by Bloomington’s board of public works last Wednesday.

The contract with Toole was approved on a rare non-unanimous vote by the three-member board.

Board president Kyla Cox Deckard abstained after wondering how Toole would handle the fact that it had already made a recommendation in 2018 for the corridor—to convert College and Walnut to two-way traffic.

The recommendation for two-way traffic was a part of Toole’s work consulting for the city on Bloomington’s transportation plan. The two-way recommendation did not survive in the version of the transportation plan that was recommended by the city plan commission to the city council for adoption.

Besides the conceptual design, other elements that Toole is supposed to provide as a part of the corridor study include: an implementation strategy with cost estimates for design and construction; several presentations to public officials at public meetings as well as public engagement; and a document that includes the conceptual design, a summary of public engagement, and traffic analysis.

On Wednesday, it was Bloomington’s assistant director of planning and transportation, Beth Rosenbarger, who gave the staff presentation about the contract to the board of public works. She described how the city received seven responses to its request for information (RFI). Two finalists were identified by a city team and two firms were interviewed, Rosenbarger said. It was that process that led to the choice of Toole Design Group, LLC for the contract, Rosenbarger said.

To lead off deliberations last Wednesday, board of public works president Kyla Cox Deckard asked Rosenbarger: “Has the city Bloomington worked with Toole on any projects like this, like a study project, in the past?”

It was Toole that had worked on the city’s transportation plan in 2018, Rosenbarger told Cox Deckard.

The transportation plan was eventually adopted by the city council in July 2019.  According to the city of Bloomington online financial system, Toole Design Group was paid $124,900 for its work on Bloomington’s transportation plan.

Rosenbarger told Cox Deckard on Wednesday that no representatives from Toole were available to answer questions, but that Rosenbarger could forward Cox Deckard’s questions to the firm.

The back-and-forth between Rosenbarger and Cox Deckard drew out the fact that Bloomington’s plan commission in 2018 had altered one of Toole’s recommendations in a draft of the plan.

Toole’s 2018 recommendation was to convert the College Avenue and Walnut Street pair—which are currently each one-way streets—to two-way traffic. In November 2018, the plan commission amended the transportation plan to remove Toole’s recommendation for two-way traffic on College and Walnut.

In 2018, Toole also recommended that the College-Walnut corridor needed to be studied further. Last Wednesday’s $170,000 contract is for Toole’s recommended further study of the corridor.

Given that background, Cox Deckard wondered how Toole would handle the process of studying the corridor now, given the plan commission’s removal of Toole’s 2018 recommendation for two-way traffic on the streets in the corridor.

Rosenbarger told Cox Deckard that from the staff’s perspective the work is being done based on a “goals based design.” Rosenbarger said, “As a community…there’s a list of things that we want to achieve by doing a corridor study, and a conceptual design of our streets.”

Rosenbarger continued: “So we want to bring people together and talk about: If we look at different design options, how do each of those measure up to these goals and to what we want to achieve as a community?”

Cox Deckard pressed again the question of how Toole would be able to study the corridor, given that the firm had already made a recommendation for two-way traffic on College and Walnut.

Rosenbarger said over 100 people work for Toole, so it would not necessarily be the same staff who worked on the 2018 transportation plan. Rosenbarger described them as “professionals who specialize in street design, in achieving goals and values through street design.”

Rosenbarger said, “If there’s a concern that because this is the firm that did the transportation plan [that means] there’s only one answer, we don’t think there’s only one answer.”

Rosenbarger concluded, “We want to explore the options, have a community conversation, and look at our goals as a community and different ways to achieve those goals.”

16 thoughts on “Walnut-College study contract OK’d by Bloomington board of works, could tackle two-way question

  1. Leave Walnut and College one way streets. Was this the same firm that recommended 3rd street and Atwater be two way ? With all the buses that stop the traffic? Come on!

  2. Or two of the three Walnut St lanes blocked by beer delivery trucks. Or one of three lanes blocked by student housing construction.

  3. Make them two-way streets. Traffic should be optimized for stopping in the downtown area, not for rushing through it as quickly as possible.

    1. Street design and signalization should always allow for the most efficient movement of traffic, regardless of intended destination. Traffic flow on Walnut and College is bad enough with all of the double parked vehicles and occasional closed lanes. Making these two streets 2-way is one of the worst ideas to come out of this administration. Why are they wasting money on this study when there are far more pressing needs?

      1. Because successful organizations can look ahead and do more than one thing at a time

      2. “Street design and signalization should always allow for the most efficient movement of traffic, regardless of intended destination.” i think that’s well put. i think that’s what everyone wants.

        so right now walnut and college make it pretty convenient (but drivers still gripe about it, don’t get me wrong) to travel through downtown. if you match your speed to the lights, you can literally travel a mile across downtown without stopping once. but i live at 15th street and i have to cross college to get to the cvs 800ft from my house. so for me, it’s pretty inconvenient. the road is 50 ft wide and the drivers accordingly go very fast and they don’t like to yield to pedestrians and there are a good number of turning movements and driveways and so on. it’s a very dangerous environment. someone was killed on walnut a quarter mile from there just last month.

        so one kind of trip is given enormous resources and can travel at speed without stopping. but another kind of trip has to wait and endure a disproportionate risk of death.

        people will disagree when it comes to what should be done, how we should balance these different kinds of trips. but i just hope you can see that fails your “regardless of intended destination” test. the distant destination is currently favored, and the near one is punished.

      1. the first time around. Toole took advice from staff, copious public input, detailed traffic statistics (but no new study), the goals of our city’s comprehensive plan, and experience successfully improving the downtowns of other cities including South Bend. and for output they produced a transportation plan that called for restoring 2-way circulation because, well, let’s just say that as competent engineers and planners they wouldn’t be surprised to learn that walnut and 3rd have killed 4 pedestrians (and several drivers) in the 3 years since their plan. the characteristics that make these streets deadly are so clear and there has been such extensive experience of other american cities that have done exactly what they recommended.

        so the first time around. they brought this plan to the plan commission, which was under pressure from the administration to avoid the council the embarrassment of having an actual concrete plan to make things better. i mean, can you imagine what the drivers would say? so the plan commission stripped out the recommendation and put in the corridor study. then it went to council with the corridor study and council approved it.

        so why is there a second time around when we already received the correct answer the first time around? because the plan commission said so, because of a cowardly local democratic party that is afraid to be seen as anti-car.

  4. ‘Rosenbarger told Cox Deckard that from the staff’s perspective the work is being done based on a “goals based design.” Rosenbarger said, “As a community…there’s a list of things that we want to achieve by doing a corridor study, and a conceptual design of our streets.”‘

    What are these ‘goals’ that the ‘community’ wants, other than shoveling more money to consultants?

    1. Good question! I went and looked in the Bloomington Comprehensive Plan from 2018 – it lists these goals:

      Goal 6.1: Increase Sustainability: Improve the sustainability of the transportation system.
      Goal 6.2: Improve Public Transit: Maintain, improve, and expand an accessible, safe, and efficient public transportation system.
      Goal 6.3: Improve the Bicycle and Pedestrian Network: Maintain, improve, and expand an accessible, safe, and efficient network for pedestrians, and attain platinum status as a Bicycle Friendly Community, as rated by the League of American Bicyclists.
      Goal 6.4: Prioritize Non-Automotive Modes: Continue to integrate all modes into the transportation network and to prioritize bicycle, pedestrian, public transit, and other non-automotive modes to make our network equally accessible, safe, and efficient for all users.
      Goal 6.5: Protect Neighborhood Streets: Protect neighborhood streets that support residential character and provide a range of local transportation options.
      Goal 6.6: Optimize Public Space for Parking: Plan and develop parking for cars and bicycles with a focus on efficiency and equity.
      Goal 6.7: Educate the Public: Increase residents’ safe use of transportation options that minimize negative environmental and infrastructure impacts.

      But I think it also might have said something about having lots and lots of scooters 😉

      1. Oh, the quote it when it supports me ignore it when it doesn’t Comp Plan?

        “Depending on how you want to read the Comprehensive Plan, you can kind of read into it what you want.”

        Matt Flaherty, At Large City Council Member


        So I say it says to keep College and Walnut one-way and add the previously suggested bike lanes, refuge islands and dedicated delivery areas.

        But generally I avoid both of those streets, anyway. And come to think of it I avoid 7th Street since the city worked its magic on the 7 Line so maybe we should just leave bad enough alone and do nothing. The primary goal, dollars for consultants, has already been accomplished anyway.

  5. I lived on the corner of First and Walnut when Walnut was two-way south of Second Street. Whenever I happened to be home during the day I would hear a crash between somebody trying to turn left into one of the businesses on the west side of Walnut where the post office is now, and somebody going south. Once the current situation was established I never heard another crash.

  6. Walnut and College are both ridiculous roads for having three lanes through the heart of downtown. It’s a complete safety failure for pedestrians, especially at 8th, 9th, and 12th streets. IMO a good redesign would include:
    – protected bike lanes
    – pedestrian refuge islands at non-signalized crossing
    – designated loading/unloading areas for delivery trucks

    There is no way that all that width should be dedicated solely to traffic throughput.

  7. Widen the sidewalks to eliminate at least one of the lanes on each. I don’t care if two way vs one way but I’m tired of sitting at stoplights when there is no reason. Adding the light at 11th was madness. We would do better with stop signs or yield signs. If there is a rush minute at 5p, hire some part time traffic people to waive the traffic through line we do for football game days.

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