DeKALB – Without knowing the full details of the project, DeKalb City Council members gave Northern Illinois University a green light to create a bus-staging area along Normal Road.
The decision means NIU will be able to skip a process that would normally take several months and involve more input from the City Council. Instead, City Manager Anne Marie Gaura will issue NIU a permit and work with university officials as they design and construct a bus-staging area in front of the Holmes Student Center.
University officials want the area to be ready for the fall semester, a timeline the typical city approval process would not accommodate.
City Attorney Dean Frieders explained to aldermen they were voting on whether they supported the concept, but that areas such as safety concerns and impact on public utilities in the area would be worked out between university and city staff.
“We’re trying to be flexible and work with a very important local business,” Frieders said.
Bill Nicklas, NIU’s vice president of community relations and public safety, said the change would shift all Huskie buses from the west to the east side of the Holmes Student Center. The area would be big enough for eight buses to load and unload students under a canopy. Buses would then head south on Normal Road.
Pushing the buses from the west to the east side would allow students to walk across Carroll Avenue from the Holmes Student Center to Neptune halls without worrying about bus traffic, Nicklas said, adding the change would be evaluated in a year.
“The idea is to start gradually using that area less for transportation and more for student purposes, to make that a more comfortable walking area, for pedestrians and bicycles,” Nicklas said. “So there is a change and there is a shift to meet the market.”
The plan drew some ire from aldermen, with 3rd Ward Alderwoman Kristen Lash and 5th Ward Alderman Ron Naylor voting against the motion because they opposed NIU moving so quickly.
Lash raised concerns about pedestrians crossing Normal Road. She noted safety could become more of an issue if the university staged buses on a road that already sees some speeding drivers.
“I hate to kill a plan, but there’s a number of big public safety concerns,” Lash said. “I don’t know if I’d be comfortable passing the plans without seeing those addressed.”
Nicklas contended Lash’s concerns about people speeding along Normal Road would be present with or without moving the bus staging area. He also pointed out the road has several speed bumps and is monitored by campus police.