The City of Galesburg is reworking one of its major streets.
Fremont Street will go from four lanes to three lanes for traffic and two lanes for bikes. The project is getting mixed reviews from residents. Construction is underway on the road between Henderson and Seminary.
The project will adopt what is called a complete street design. It includes adding bike lanes on each side which will also provide a buffer for sidewalks. It will have two lanes of traffic with a center turn lane instead of two lanes of traffic in each direction.
Jenni Cricket of the Knox County Health Department says the new layout will be safer for everyone using Fremont. “Not just for pedestrians and cyclist but also for motorists," Cricket said. "The speed limit down Fremont down there is 30 miles per hour, but if you ever drive down that road with the four lanes you would know that people do not stick to the 30 miles per hour. “
Cricket also says safer pedestrian and bicycle options will make it easier for residents to choose healthy forms of transportation. That's why the Health Department is paying for some of the signs for the roadwork.
But not everyone shares the Health Department’s point of view.
Penny Keith works at Western Illinois Managed Home Services. Her office looks out over the corner of Fremont and Henderson.
"It's not going to be safe for anyone that would be riding a bicycle. I could see someone possibly being injured or actually a fatality," Keith said. "The street actually is not even wide enough now and we see a lot of accidents out here on Fremont and we just don’t think it would be safe.”
There are some organizations that see both sides of the debate. Weston Oxley is the director of student ministries at Bethel Baptist Church on Fremont.
“It will have both some positives and negatives side on the negative side during our high traffic times when services are starting or getting out, it will make it especially hard we have our one main entrance where people come and go, specially turning left is going to be a nightmare so I think those things will be tough", Oxley said.
"On the positive side I work with the students here church and I have young kids that live just off Fremont here where we live and kids who are walking to and from our Wednesday night services or we even have some kids who walk here Sunday mornings those type of things, always makes us nervous cars go much faster there’s not much buffer space between the sidewalk and the lane of traffic and so having that extra bike lane I know for me and my kids will make me feel a lot safer and watching my students who come on Wednesday night.”
Like other residents and businesses along Fremont Street, Oxley is looking at the parts of the project that will have the largest impact on his group. But Galesburg city engineer Wayne Carl says it’s important to look at the total picture.
"I want people to know we were resurfacing the road ways any way," Carl said. "We're not doing this project to add bike lanes. We are resurfacing the roadway and when we look at the resurfacing we look at handicapped ramps which we’re doing, and we also look at pedestrians and bicyclists and see what we can do to make it safer for everyone”
Carl says he understands that some people are skeptical. He also predicts much greater acceptance of the road when it’s finished. "Sometimes change can be difficult; people visualize it, you know, thinking its going to be a traffic jam and that absolutely will not be the case up here," Carl said.
The city is projecting the new layout of Fremont will reduce accidents by almost 30 percent. Carl says if Galesburg residents want a preview of what traffic will look like on Fremont, they only need to go down a couple streets to Losey Street, which has had a similar design for years. The project is scheduled to be complete at the end of August.