In the 1970s, Southlake Mall opened up at the interchange of Interstate 65 and U.S. 30. Over the years, many other retail establishments, restaurants, hotels and professional offices followed to create one of the busiest destinations in Northwest Indiana today.

Unfortunately, this popular destination spot grew well ahead of sound planning, with the result being choking congestion on U.S. 30 because of an abundance of traffic lights. There have been some mild improvements over the years with increased lanes and better turning options, but gridlock still remains at peak hours.

Worse still are safe options for bicycle and pedestrian visitors, but many walk and bike the corridor on a daily basis. The vast majority of these hardy folks work in this area and don’t have the means to afford automobiles. Many are forced to walk along U.S. 30 on “desire paths,” which are nothing more than dirt trails.

In an effort to improve vehicular circulation, including bicycle and pedestrian safely in this area, NIRPC recently adopted the U.S. 30 Safety Study. This report provides the most comprehensive analysis to date on improving traffic flow and creates what nobody thought possible: a safe, non-motorized environment in the U.S. 30 and I-65 interchange area.

Vehicular options aim to relieve the frustrating congestion, which plagues access to the area. Chief recommendations include improved transit options by enhancing the Gary Public Transportation Corp.’s network into the vicinity. Another involves a new tunnel under I-65, north of U.S. 30, to link together major retail and hotel destinations.

A major component of the study involves an exhaustive look at the current conditions that inhibit bicycle and foot traffic and proposes a number of improvements to aid in their movement. Most notably of these are two bike and pedestrian bridges to span U.S. 30 on both the east and west sides of the interstate. These bridges would be connected to a new, 12-mile network of off-road trails that would also include tunnels under I-65 north and south of U.S. 30, removing bicycles from traffic conflicts and improving traffic flow.

Also included are recommendations for improved at-grade crossings, especially at the Southlake Mall area. These designs entail crosswalks at existing lights with “refuge islands,” or paved medians that enable users to safely cross only one direction of traffic at a time. These islands also serve to slow down vehicular traffic.

Bike sharing options also are explored to provide another form of alternative transportation. These rental bikes may be attractive to out-of-town guests who want to access nearby destinations and avoid traffic congestion. This option would be employed once the trail network has been established.

To learn more about this new study, please visit our website at www.nirpc.org. To obtain a free Northwest Indiana bike, hike and paddle map, visit www.greenwaysblueways.com.

Mitch Barloga is nonmotorized transportation and greenways planner for the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission. The opinions are the writer's.

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Porter/LaPorte County Editor

Porter/LaPorte Editor Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.