After serving more than one and a half years on the Traffic Commission, studying its role and responsibilities, I was elected chairman when John Haverals resigned after years of service. In the past year, much has happened that affected the Commission’s efforts and direction. Both Public Works Director Steve Van Winkle and City Engineer Gene Hewitt resigned, taking with them years of knowledge and experience. Fortunately, Mayor Jim Ardis appointed Van Winkle to the Traffic Commission.
Prior to serving on the Traffic Commission, I spent four and a half years on the Heart of Peoria Commission, including a year and a half chairing an ad hoc transportation committee. The City Council didn’t want two groups working on transportation, so I was appointed to the Traffic Commission when the HOPC was being phased out.
…and what could be…
One of my priorities for the Traffic Commission is to change its focus and direction. I believe changing the name to the Transportation Commission would better reflect what this commission is about—it’s more than just automobile traffic. The original focus was to move traffic in and out of downtown. The streets were designed in the ‘50s and ‘60s for a population of 200,000, with major shopping downtown. That is not the situation we have today. With shopping malls located well outside the downtown area, our downtown streets need to be evaluated with an eye for the future.
We have wide one-way streets, with Washington Street two-way, but wider than I-74 in some places. A number of consultants have studied our downtown. In the ‘80s, it was Angelos Demetriou. Then in 2002, we had Andres Duaney, and in 2006, Ferrell Madden. They all made similar recommendations—suggesting that Washington Street should be a narrower two-way, with parking and turn lanes. We could also widen the sidewalks, add landscaping and use traffic-calming methods to make the streets downtown pedestrian-friendly.
We also need to address issues in the residential neighborhoods, including traffic-calming methods and lowering speed limits. Our focus should always be on safety first. We need to involve neighborhood associations and other citizens in our plans and recommendations. The Commission needs to be more pro-active and not merely respond to plans brought by other groups for review.
Another reason I want to change the name to the Transportation Commission is that we should look at railroads. Rail lines in Peoria need to be upgraded, and the best way to get federal money for this would be to have passenger as well as freight use. A passenger link from Peoria to Mossville would be a good start. It could be expanded to include Chillicothe, and even, eventually, Chicago.
Bus service in and around Peoria is another matter where the Commission could be of assistance. We would like to work with CityLink to help solve problems and enhance public transportation as well. Also, representatives from CityLink, and the fire and police departments should be on the Commission.
It is a privilege and honor to serve the City of Peoria with my fellow commissioners on the Traffic (Transportation) Commission. I believe there is much we can do to improve transportation for all the people of Peoria. iBi