Editorials, Opinion

Connect downtown to riverfront? Make it safer to walk

We mentioned yesterday that the results of the Morgantown Riverfront Revitalization Task Force’s survey indicated locals had two main concerns about the riverfront. One was the number of unhoused people who tend to congregate around the rail-trail where it parallels the Monongahela River. The other concern cited was lack of connectivity between downtown and the riverfront.

This has also been a known issue. As beautiful as the region’s rolling hills may be, they make getting places more difficult. It might technically be half a mile from the top of High Street to Hazel Ruby McQuain Park (then another half mile to the Wharf District), but that half mile goes up and down some steep hills and crosses multiple lanes of traffic. There has been talk in the past of building a pedestrian bridge to connect White Park to the riverfront. The City of Morgantown has even included $4 million for said bridge in its requests to Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin for congressionally directed spending.

A pedestrian bridge would most certainly help. (As an Editorial Board, we jokingly wondered if the one connecting the WVU Business and Economics building to Oglebay Hall that no one uses could be repurposed.) However, it could take years to secure the funding and even longer to get the project off the ground, let alone completed.

But there is something the city could do in the meantime to make passage from downtown to the riverfront easier for pedestrians: Appeal to the state to adjust traffic light timing.       

Anyone who has tried to cross University Avenue from downtown over to the riverfront knows that even with crosswalks and traffic lights, the intersections are not pedestrian-friendly. The lights aren’t programmed to stop traffic completely while people walk across. Rather, vehicles supposedly traveling parallel to pedestrian traffic get the green light to go at the same time walkers get the go-ahead to cross.

The key word there is “supposedly” — because many vehicles are actually turning onto perpendicular streets instead of driving straight across. This means cars are coming straight at pedestrians. Even though walkers theoretically have the right-of-way, drivers frequently don’t yield to pedestrians or simply don’t see them until it’s almost too late.

A simple fix would be to reprogram the traffic lights to hold all vehicles at a standstill while pedestrians cross the road. As annoying as it is for drivers, it seems to have had success at intersections like where Chestnut Ridge Road (W.Va. 705) meets Van Voorhis Road and Burroughs Street.

In fact, this adjustment could and should be made all over the city. Remember the report that said Morgantown has some of the most dangerous intersections in the state for pedestrians? We suspect much of that could be remedied just by retiming the lights so traffic can’t turn across a crosswalk at the same time people get the “walk” signal and adding “no turn on red” signs.

While Morgantown can’t flatten the hills that make walking the city a sometimes less-than-pleasant experience, it can make the roads and intersections safer for pedestrians. That would go a long way in improving the connectivity — or at least perceived ease of access — between downtown and the riverfront.