By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
PITTSBURG, Kan. — City commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday against a proposal by Pittsburg State University to install traffic-control measures on a block-long section of Joplin Street though the campus.
The meeting drew an overflow crowd.
Mayor Pam Henderson said after the meeting that the topic has demanded the attention of the city staff and commissioners since November.
“We received more e-mails and calls and letters about this than any other issue in a long time,” she said.
So much so that Commissioner Bill Rushton scolded university officials before calling for a motion against the measure.
“I’ve received 200 to 300 calls on my cell phone and am burning up my minutes,” he said. “I don’t appreciate the way city staff and commissioners have been abused in this process.”
Nearly every resident who spoke, as well as each of the commissioners, praised PSU for the role it plays in the community.
“I love this university ... but the university needs to be a good citizen,” said Victor Sullivan, a professor emeritus who lives near PSU and spoke against the proposal.
Some residents said they were concerned that closing the street would hamper traffic flow around town and could slow the movement of emergency vehicles.
Initially, PSU had proposed closing Joplin Street from Lindburg Street to Cleveland Street. After opposition surfaced, university officials modified their proposal, calling for traffic-control measures such as gates, bumped-out curbs to make pedestrians more visible at the crossing, and elevated areas called “tables” six inches above the level of the street to slow traffic.
Paul Stewart, PSU facilities planner, clarified for the commission that the university was asking for one elevated table, bumped-out curbs that do not go into traffic lanes and the removal of several parking spaces near the Yates Hall crosswalk.
Commissioner Patrick O’Bryan said he thought the plan was “certainly palatable” and added that as a downtown merchant, he had voted for similar bump-outs to be included in the streetscape plan. He was the lone commissioner voting to approve the PSU proposal.
Rushton adamantly opposed the plan, calling it “ill-conceived.”
“You’d have to be a speed maniac to really be a problem,” he said of traffic on Joplin Street.
Commissioner Rudy Draper said PSU is “great for our community, but our infrastructure around the university isn’t quite in place” to support changes to Joplin Street.
Commissioner Marty Beezley said, “One of the biggest flaws really was no plan that the city and PSU had developed together.” She said that despite recent and planned growth at PSU, including the student recreation center, a new apartment complex, a new dormitory, and a proposed performing and fine arts center, there has been no discussion about traffic flow.
“We need a serious discussion for the city’s long-range plan and PSU’s long-range plan,” she said, “As a commissioner, it’s my responsibility to make sure there is a plan.”
Before the discussion among Pittsburg city commissioners, City Attorney Henry Menghini said he wanted to clear up a potential misconception about Mayor Pam Henderson’s authority to vote on the issue. Henderson is employed by PSU.
“Pam may vote on it with no conflict of interest,” he said, citing rules of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission. But, Henderson had said before the meeting that she planned to abstain from the vote on the Joplin Street proposal.
By Andra Bryan Stefanoni