Study shows barriers block student traffic to downtown

DKS Editors

Author suggests more sidewalks, car pooling

Watch how students make their way around campus.

Students commute to class by walking, bicycling, riding the bus and driving, but the latter remains the most prevalent, according to a recent study.

To change this trend, campus and city officials have planned improvements that will benefit both economic and environment sustainability, as well as commuters.

“Solo-automobile commuting” is used most often in commuting to campus, according to Geography Professor David Kaplan’s study on sustainable transportation. Walking was the second choice of surveyed students, followed by taking the bus, carpooling and bicycling.

University transportation has progressed in the past with the addition of a bus service in the late ’60s and the Esplanade in 2005, but alternative transportation and encouraging non-vehicular traffic have become the focus of today.

“It’s something that has a cost benefit, but it has an environmental benefit as well,” said Thomas Clapper, general manager of Kent State Transportation Services.

Kaplan, who conducted the study on the university’s sustainable transportation from July 2007 to December 2008, extended his study in March 2009 to include the city and said he hopes to have a final report by late spring in 2010.

“That’s going to extend that study and give it a much more holistic view,” he said.

The Ohio Transportation Consortium funded the previous sustainability study as well as the current one, which Kaplan said could cost tens of thousands of dollars. He added that studies typically take a year to complete.

Kaplan began conducting studies on transportation after an electric railway called a “light rail,” running from Cleveland to Canton, was proposed in 1999. He and Clapper tried to determine if there was a case for a route through Kent, but the proposal wasn’t accepted.

In Kent State University’s Sustainable Transportation Initiative study, Kaplan examined areas of the campus to determine the use and state of structures such as sidewalks, bike paths and bus stops. There were some inconsistencies in infrastructure, but Kaplan said the campus as a whole is fairly sustainable.

“Certainly, we’re better than some, but for a university that is mostly residential, I think there are certainly a lot of better examples,” he said.

Kaplan said he thinks the campus and city could improve sustainability by increasing bike racks, making sidewalks and bike lanes more consistent and opening barriers between the university and downtown.

Haymaker Parkway, with four lanes of rushing traffic, creates one of those barriers.

“That was supposed to be the way to facilitate more automobile traffic, and it did. But it cut off pedestrian traffic,” Kaplan said of the road constructed in the mid-1970s.

Clapper agreed that Haymaker Parkway is problematic. Its slanted sidewalks and high level of car traffic could deter people from traveling downtown. He added that downtown is closer to front campus than the Student Center but more difficult to get to.

“One of the things the Esplanade has done is it’s allowed residence hall students to get themselves down there, the end of front campus and to Starbucks, real easy,” Clapper said. “But once you get there, then you have all these barriers.”

There has been an effort to extend the campus west and the city east for about seven years, with more progress made recently, he said.

“Planning-wise, this has been talked about for many, many years, and right now, it has a lot of good momentum,” Clapper said.

Kent State’s impact on downtown was considered in the city’s 2004 comprehensive plan, which addressed long-term community projects.

Mary Gilbert, director of Main Street Kent, said the previous plan had not been updated since 1989 and had cut out Kent State.

“We knew that the university should be a big part of this, so we wanted to be really inclusive this time,” she said.

Gilbert said she thinks the plan’s goal to improve downtown Kent has led to renovations. One future plan includes a hotel and conference center that would have a multi-modal facility with bike facilities, buses and a parking deck.

“That’s probably a couple years away, but there is federal funding to help fund that. So, that’s our big vision,” Gilbert said. “In the meantime, I think we do little things like bike racks and encouraging more public transportation.”

Gilbert said there is no definite date to construct the facility. The city is working on a development agreement, but she said it likely won’t be until 2011 that they can break ground.

“They were moving along pretty well until the economy went sour,” Gilbert said. “So because of that, it’s been kind of on hold.”

Another option being considered is a permanent trolley running from the university to downtown. Gilbert said the idea was used this year for an event welcoming freshmen when “Lolly the Trolly” was borrowed from Cleveland.

“There’s no definite plans, but it’s something we’d like to do,” she said.

Clapper said Main Street will be the start of a citywide signal coordination project later this year.

Clapper said campus plans include renovating Summit Street from Lincoln Street to Loop Road starting in 2013 and constructing sidewalks from Loop Road to state Route 261. The city is currently working on connecting separated segments of the Portage County Hike and Bike Trail.

Kaplan said reorienting transportation patterns is difficult, but the progress should be continued.

“I’ve been doing this for 10 years, and I’m not going to stop now,” Kaplan said. “I think a lot of people have that same level of commitment. They want to see Kent become a better place.

“Not only is it sustainable transportation, but I think it also means a much more cohesive community.”

Transportation Study

Kent State University’s Sustainable Transportation Initiative study, conducted by Geography Professor David Kaplan, examined transportation facilities and use around the university from July 2007 to December 2008. Pedestrian and bicycle traffic were found to vary in quality depending on location. These are some of the findings:


North Loop Road and East Main

Along Loop Road, there are inconsistent sidewalks and few crosswalks. The sidewalks along the fast-moving traffic of East Main Street are narrow and not shoveled well in winter. There are no sidewalks in Franklin Township.

South Loop Road and Summit

The intersection of Loop Road and Summit Street has no sidewalk access, and the crosswalks are spaced far apart.

Mid-Summit Street and South Campus

With campus buildings, parking lots and a nearby apartment complex, the intersections and crosswalks on Summit Street are frequently used. Here the sidewalk system is good and crosswalks are distributed evenly.

East Main Street and Lincoln

East Main Street sidewalks vary in quality. The paths were recently improved, with the university sidewalk being widened and distanced from traffic. Pedestrian islands were also added, making it easier to cross the street.


North Loop Road and East Main

While there is room for bicycles on Loop Road, it is interrupted near the southern corner.

South Loop Road and Summit

Bike paths are sporadic, making commuting difficult.

Mid-Summit Street and South Campus

Bicycling is easier on Morris Road, which connects to the Esplanade.

East Main Street and Lincoln

There is no place to ride bicycles except the sidewalk on East Main Street, and traffic runs right along curb.

Contact enterprise reporter Kelly Byer at [email protected]