Students fill the sidewalks along McCormick Road during class changes. The wider walkways on the west end of the road should give them safer passage. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)
The western end of McCormick Road has a safer streetscape this fall.
Work crews from Mid-Atlantic Infrastructure Systems Inc. and University of Virginia personnel made several changes along the road during the summer, including building wider sidewalks, a raised crosswalk, Americans with Disability Act-compliant curb cuts, other crosswalk improvements, plantings, a water bottle filling station and modernized vehicle gates.
Much of the work, designed by Perkins + Will of Washington, was done to enhance safety, especially for students during class changes.
“Creating a wider pedestrian path for students making their way between buildings is a positive step toward providing safer passage during those times when movement across Grounds is at its peak,” University Police Chief Timothy Longo said.
The sidewalks, first installed in the 1950s, were widened from about 6 feet to about 15 feet to accommodate more students.
“At the pinch point around the McCormick Road bridge on West Grounds, more than 1,000 pedestrians were counted in a 15-minute period at class change at a single counting station,” said Helen Wilson, the senior landscape architect at the Office of the Architect for the University. “At the crosswalk between Monroe Hall and Garrett and Minor halls in Central Grounds, 640 pedestrians were counted in a 15-minute period at class change.”
The renovations should reduce vehicular traffic on that section of the road.
The renovations to the west end of McCormick Road have narrowed the vehicle lanes in the interest of pedestrian safety. Extensive native plantings will be part of the safety renovations. (Illustration by Perkins + Will)
“The old gates that limited vehicles from travelling along McCormick Road during the day have been non-functioning for more than five years now,” Wilson said. “Conflicts with vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists, especially at class change, are concerning. Part of the reason the University Transit System does not run buses on McCormick Road during daytime hours during the academic year is due to this congestion.”
Part of the project will allow the University to set up new, more advanced vehicle control gates. If congestion can be mitigated in the future, UTS may restore daytime bus service on McCormick Road.
Studies conducted from 2015 to 2018 prioritized pedestrian safety along that primary artery on Grounds. The improvements from the Physics Building to the intersection of McCormick and Alderman roads were the first phase. Next summer, the University plans to make changes on the Alderman Library end of the road.
Mark Stanis, director of capital construction and renovations at Facilities Management, said the work required close coordination between the McCormick Road pedestrian safety project and the utility installation that closed the McCormick/Alderman intersection for the summer.
“As the organizational spine that joins Central Grounds to residence halls, academic buildings and public spaces to the west, this space plays an important role in the daily experiences of students, faculty, staff and visitors,” said Amy Eichenberger, a Facilities Management project manager. “As a significant improvement to connecting vital functions on Grounds, this project will advance urban design, landscape architecture and sustainable infrastructure goals identified in the landscape framework plan into implementation.”
While a primary goal of the renovation was safety, Longo said the improvement cannot replace personal responsibility.
“Engineering and traffic/pedestrian safety management is certainly important, but an even more important element is taking ownership of our individual and collective responsibility to share the road with a high degree of caution, care, respect, cooperation and patience,” Longo said. “If we do these things regularly and adhere to the very basic traffic safety principles, it will go a long way to maintaining a safe environment for our students, faculty and staff making their way across Grounds.”
The infrastructure work also included relocating fire hydrants, storm drains and other underground utilities, as well as installing new lighting, a power pedestal to accommodate food trucks and the water bottle filling station, the first of its kind on Grounds. Still in the works are new plantings of native and adapted plants, native grasses and forbs, shrubs and trees.