The University of Connecticut announced Aug. 10 that it would be piloting a program to close the section of Hillside Road that stretches from the university bookstore to the student union. The pilot program will block all vehicular traffic in the designated area with the exception of university buses and emergency vehicles. The university hopes this change will create a safer environment for foot traffic near the center of campus.
Mike Enright is the deputy spokesperson for university communications and released the initial announcement of the closure on UConn Today. He spoke about the closure and why the university decided to close this section of Hillside Road.
“Pedestrian safety was probably the primary reason and also campus life enhancement as a secondary reason. It’s a busy part of campus. There’s a lot of pedestrian interaction with vehicles. It gets very clogged with vehicles and it’s really just a way to make campus safer for pedestrian traffic,” Enright said.
Enright continued by explaining the university’s long-term view of what they would like the area to look like in the future, comparing it to Fairfield Way which used to be an active roadway through the center of campus until the university took a similar action to make it more pedestrian friendly.
“The hope is that it becomes, if we decide to close it permanently, kind of a plaza area, more than a main street, a lot like Fairfield Way is now … Fairfield Way used to be a road kind of similar to Hillside. It was two ways, it was parking, it was a busy corridor and you could never imagine Fairfield Way becoming part of campus life and you can never really imagine vehicle traffic on there now. That’s kind of the vision for Hillside Road right now,” Enright said.
This plan for Hillside Road has been in place since the adoption of the 2015 era Campus Master Plan. The road closure was initially planned to be piloted under the same guidelines in 2020 but due to the pandemic was postponed.
“This wasn’t a snap decision or anything like that. This has been several years in the thought process,” Enright said. “To be honest with you the plans for this, we were thinking of doing a pilot program right before COVID hit and obviously with COVID It didn’t really make any sense because the campus population was down, but this is something that university safety and university facilities have been thinking about for a while. It was part of the master plan that came out in 2015. So it’s been out there for a while.”
In the initial announcement of the pilot program, the university said that its success would be evaluated at the end of the fall semester. Among the conditions the university will consider when deciding to continue the program, chief among them will be the disruption to traffic, how the campus community reacts to the closure, and how pedestrians and drivers adapt to the changes.
“I think we’re going to look at traffic patterns, how the traffic is affected by the closing of Hillside. I mean, you can’t really tell. We’ve got our notions and thoughts, but you know how traffic patterns are on campus with Hillside, how students, faculty, and staff react to it, how it affects general campus life both for pedestrians and drivers … I think it’s a monitoring situation,” Enright said.
When asked whether the decision made at the end of the semester will be a permanent one, Enright said that it is too early to predict any aspect of that decision.
“I think it’s too early to say whether we’ll go and make a permanent decision one way or another right away. With the semester not even starting yet, I just think it’s too early. But there’ll be no decision made about the future till the end of the fall semester,” Enright said.