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Part of UND campus road to be closed to vehicles

A sign warns motorists of the closure of the west side of Centennial Drive on the UND campus. University President Mark Kennedy said the street was converted to pedestrian-only use for public safety reasons. (Andrew Haffner/Grand Forks Herald)

Part of a central road on the UND campus has been shut down to motorized traffic to create what campus leaders hope is a more pedestrian-friendly area.

Centennial Drive runs in a wide "U" shape through an area of campus that hosts many of the university's academic and administrative buildings. As students returned to campus this past week, they might have noticed that the one-way road's westernmost length—which runs between Davis Drive and University Avenue near Gamble Hall—has been closed to vehicles. Campus Road, which runs along the southern end of the "U" shape and spans the majority of the UND grounds, has been untouched so far by the closure.

UND President Mark Kennedy said the change will likely be a permanent shift to a pedestrian-only zone based on a recommendation from UND Department of Public Safety. Given the road's proximity to the academic core of campus, the Centennial Drive area is typically full of students traveling on foot. When cars are added to the mix, Kennedy said, the Centennial Drive crossing "seems to me to be one of the most unsafe intersections I've ever encountered."

The long-term status of the east half of the street is still undetermined, but Kennedy said it's possible that it too will be closed to vehicles sometime in the future.

Eric Plummer, who is the associate vice president for public safety and chief of UND Police, said discussions "have gone on for the last five years as to whether the entirety of Centennial Drive should be closed off to motorized traffic.

"It makes sense to limit pedestrian and vehicular conflict areas in the heart of campus," Plummer said.

Beyond public safety, the move to close Centennial Drive is partly due to goals contained in the broad Coulee to Columbia infrastructure plan, an overhaul campaign that would target the campus corridor between the English Coulee and Columbia Road. That plan includes a cooperative element with the city of Grand Forks to revamp University Avenue and could also see significant renovations to Memorial Union, as well as the Chester Fritz Library and the UND College of Business and Public Administration.

Mike Pieper is head of campus facilities and chairman of the Coulee to Columbia Committee. The closure of the west side of Centennial Drive, Pieper said, has provided the university with a relatively low-impact means of studying the effects of road closures on campus.

With the possible reshaping of major UND gathering points, as well as the increased focus on pedestrian-friendly space, he said it's "quite possible" that more roads could eventually be shut down to motorized traffic. Pieper said one of the long-term goals of Coulee to Columbia and other ongoing campus use surveys could be to find a way to maintain fewer motorized intersections with University Avenue that could disrupt pedestrian traffic. Another, he added, could be a reduction of the school's 119 acres of roads and parking lots that fall under its management.

"If we can improve (traffic) and overall safety in and around campus and reduce our amount of roadways or even parking that we're managing—that's existing deferred maintenance and capital expense that we can avoid and try to funnel back into the classrooms," Pieper said.

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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