Hal Greer plan remembers pedestrians’ needs

March 24, 2019
Stantec consultant Mike Rutkowski, center, discusses the Hal Greer Boulevard Concept Design with community members during a presentation on Thursday at the A.D. Lewis Center in Huntington.

For a generation or more, pedestrians have been the forgotten people in traffic engineering. Or, perhaps, the deliberately ignored. The people who have designed improvements to highways and streets have focused on moving motor vehicles from one place to another as quickly and efficiently as possible. Sidewalks, berms and other accommodations for pedestrians have been afterthoughts, if they were in the designers’ thoughts at all.

That’s not the case in the proposed redesign of the Hal Greer Corridor in Huntington. The plan, unveiled this past Thursday evening, seeks to revitalize a long-troubled area by making it friendlier to pedestrians.

“We’re trying to redesign it to incorporate built-in traffic calming,” said Mike Rutkowski, a project manager and engineer with Stantec, the company working for the city on the redesign project. “People have a tendency to speed, and we want them to know they’re entering an environment that is pedestrian-first.”

The design includes planted medians to get drivers to slow down. It also includes intersection treatments, high-visibility crosswalks, pedestrian countdowns and lighting to make the street more walkable and promote pedestrian safety.

A protected bike lane from 3rd Avenue to 8th Avenue and a 10-foot-wide multiuse path from 3rd Avenue to Washington Boulevard are also part of the plan.

Unlike 3rd and 5th avenues — which are one-way, high-volume, high-speed streets — Hal Greer is four lanes with a center turn lane for much of its length. The high traffic volume and the speed at which people tend to drive it make it hazardous for pedestrians in many places. The continued growth of Cabell Huntington Hospital and Marshall University along Hal Greer, particularly south of the underpass, will only make the pedestrian problem worse. It’s a good problem to have, but it will need to be addressed soon.

One other thing the Stantec plan noted was the presence of offset streets with their back-to-back traffic lights. These are confusing for people not familiar with the area. Perhaps this can be addressed as the city moves ahead with plans for the future of the former Northcott Court apartment complex. The apartments have been demolished, and the lot is now serving as a temporary staging area for the Marshall University School of Pharmacy building being built across Hal Greer. Future development of that property will be discussed at a public meeting Thursday, March 28, at the A.D. Lewis Community Center.

Of course, all of this will cost money, and all of it will need to be approved by various agencies. The city will have to sign off on it, as will the West Virginia Division of Highways, as Hal Greer is part of West Virginia 10. Parts of the plan may be unworkable.

The city and the state may have other suggestions for making Hal Greer safer for pedestrians and cyclists without sacrificing traffic flow. A followup meeting to discuss funding is to be held in April, but a date has not been set.

In any case, we now have a plan before us that can be a starting point for public comment.