COLUMBIA, SC — Downtown drivers are starting to see substantial changes in the Assembly Street traffic project, spearheaded by the University of South Carolina as a way to increase pedestrian safety near its new business school.
Wider medians, the elimination of parking spaces in the center of the street and the burying of power lines will make the busy thoroughfare look different.
Easy-to-see crosswalks and a ban on right turns at red lights will make those on foot or a bicycle more visible and more safe as the university campus erects another building on the west side of the divided boulevard.
Its going to help traffic move better and help pedestrians move better, said Jay Thompson, a state transportation department construction engineer.
The construction along Assembly Street from Blossom to Pendleton is still set to be complete by the end of the year, even though the opening of the Darla Moore School of Business has been postponed until spring 2014, said Julie Barker, a state transportation department manager.
Studies show that the corner of Greene and Assembly streets was getting about 3,000 crossings, or people crossing over a 12-hour period. The university expects that to increase to about 9,000, or possibly even 12,000, after the business school opens, said spokesman Wes Hickman.
Assembly Street has an average daily traffic count of 24,000, which is less than Gervais and Huger streets but more than smaller, perpendicular streets such as Greene and Pendleton.
The project is on budget, Hickman said. USC is covering $2.7 million, and $1.95 million comes from Federal Transit Administration and the Richland County Transportation Committee.
The plan removes parking spaces along the median, allowing it to at least double in size, Barker said. The median was 5 feet wide and now will range from 10 feet to 20 feet wide, giving students somewhere to stand if they dont make it across Assemblys six lanes of traffic all at once, Barker said.
Drivers can park in nearby garages or at meters on cross streets, said John David Spade, the citys parking services director. The citys Park Street Garage is at the corner of Park and Pendleton streets. The universitys Discovery Plaza Garage is at Park and College streets, near USCs arena.
Pedestrians wont be able to cross mid-block. A black fence will go through the median with a few brick columns, Thompson said. Pedestrians will only be allowed to cross at Blossom, Greene, College and Pendleton streets, Thompson said.
Crosswalks will be marked not by paint but by a colored thermoplastic material that delineates the crosswalk and shows pedestrians where to walk, Thompson said.
Trees, bushes and lighting will be in the median, and roses will be at the ends of each segment and in the median across from Devine Street, which dead-ends in from of Carolina Coliseum, Thompson said. The lights in the medians will be supplemented with lighting along the sides of the streets.
There will be no right turns at red lights at Assemblys intersection with College Street and Greene Street, Barker said. Typically when drivers make right turns on red the driver does not look to the right, but instead looks for oncoming traffic to the left, Barker said. There will also be no left turns at Greene Street.
Utility lines have been buried, so those poles and dangling lines that can be a visual distraction will be removed, as they have been in Five Points, on much of Main Street and along Gervais Street in the Vista.
USC is adding something else that has nothing to do with pedestrian safety.
Two gateway walls are being built at Blossom on the corner at the Carolina Coliseum and near The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints building, Thompson said. The walls are intended to be a gateway into the university to identify the area as a part of campus and will be similar to the Greek Village wall on Lincoln Street.
Even though the parking spots at the medians will disappear, some on-street parking will remain at the edges of the street in either direction.
The plans allow for growth of campus in that area, Thompson said, and the plans will benefit traffic of both kinds.
The city has been working with USC and other entities on the current project and wants to continue Assembly Street renovations north of Pendleton and even beyond Gervais Street under a broader plan.
The idea is to leverage any federal and transit funding and address issues with connectivity on Assembly Street, said city manager Teresa Wilson.
A second phase would keep the project moving from Pendleton to Lady streets, Wilson said.
But that is contingent on finalizing funding, she said.
Reach Cope at 803-771-8657 or on Twitter @cassielcope.