October 2, 2009

New quad forces cars off the road

The University’s review process for the repavement of the main quadrangle was completed too quickly, according to a Student Government (SG) official. The subsequent summer construction, which converted the former driveway into a pedestrian-only zone, forced the Facilities Services department to develop contingency plans for vehicles making deliveries to buildings on the quad.

Fourth-year Chris Williams, SG Vice President for Administration, said the University did not ensure that vehicles would be able to reach buildings through other paths. In conversations with University administrators, Williams said he was told that the new quad was not as closely reviewed as previous buildings projects.

“They basically did the project without figuring out how to do deliveries,” he said.

Williams said he was told the oversight was caused because fewer administrators were involved with the decision than would normally have been.

“Sometimes when projects are really open and have this long process they don’t get completed on time,” Williams said. “The process wasn’t as open and transparent as what’s happened in the past [but] ultimately this project was completed on time.”

University architect Steve Wiesenthal sent an e-mail September 30 detailing an interim vehicle policy allowing cars on the quads from midnight to 7 a.m. John Carey, a manager in the University’s Facilities Services department, said the policy will be tested this quarter and finalized in the winter.

The decision to convert the area into a pedestrian zone was made because “the design of the new pedestrian pathways captures the historic feel of the quadrangles, and further enhances the sacrosanct heart of campus,” Carey wrote in an e-mail. Formerly paved with asphalt, the paths were redone with Wisconsin limestone, chosen in part for its resemblance to stone in historic English campuses such as Oxford and Cambridge that much of the U of C’s architecture emulates.

But the desire to beautify the quad may have blotted out more practical considerations. Williams said handicapped students have complained to him that the uneven surface of the cobblestones makes traveling on the quad more difficult than before, despite having been touted by the administration as being more handicapped-accessible.

“Any time an area becomes pedestrian, it improves accessibility for all,” Carey said. He added that the University hopes to surpass American Disabilities Act requirements by continuing to reduce the height variation among different parts of the path.

Carey also said the limestone will help make the quad more environmentally friendly. “The center section consists of permeable concrete, which allows water to drain to the middle of the pathway and percolate into the ground instead of being diverted directly into the sewer system.”

The University is hosting a forum October 28 from 4-5 p.m. and October 29 from 12-1 p.m. in Ida Noyes for the University community to ask questions and give feedback on the interim vehicle plans.