Former student helping make Northgate
safe for Aggie pedestrians and bicyclists


Rendition of Northgate pedestrian malls by former student Maury Jacob from TAMU College of Architecture on Vimeo.

Plans for establishing two pedestrian malls in College Station’s Northgate area, just north of the Texas A&M campus, were facilitated by Maury Jacob, a former landscape architecture student who works as a district landscape architect at the Texas Department of Transportation.

Approved by the College Station City Council last June and scheduled for completion in 2012, the design aims to make the highly trafficked area more hospitable for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Jacob, who earned a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture degree from Texas A&M in 1987, was instrumental in redefining a 2008 city of College Station proposal to make the proposed Northgate improvements and he guided the project throughout the design phase, focusing on its pedestrian and bicyclist safety aspects.

June 25, 2010, the College Station City Council voted unanimously to approve the plan, which will create two pedestrian malls by closing Houston Street and College Main at University Drive to vehicular traffic, as well as eliminate parallel parking along University Drive; it's scheduled for completion in 2012.

"Other changes include turning the parking spaces along University Drive into loading and unloading zones, modifying ramps at the interchange of Wellborn Road and University Drive to slow traffic, and installing traffic signals at the intersection of University Drive and Boyett Street. Raised medians would also be installed on University Drive," wrote Cassie Smith in a June 25, 2010 Bryan Eagle report on the project.

The original design schematic, based on a city proposal, involved straightening the Wellborn ramps to University Drive and relocating a campus driveway to add four-way signalized intersection at Boyett Street, said Jacob.

"About the time this project came into my design office, pedestrian safety in Northgate was making headlines. I did an analysis of the proposed safety improvements based on a variety of city and university master plans and found that, among a number of concerns, the most important pedestrian crossing, the one at College Main, was not addressed in the schematic," he said. "Subsequent meetings with University and College Station administrations underscored the need to fully address outstanding pedestrian safety issues in the final design."

The most complex safety issue, he said, was the intersection of College Main and University.

“There are simply too many competing needs to be met within the physical constraints of that intersection, but TxDOT tried to find solutions that work for everybody," he said.

Jacob prioritized user needs at the intersection based on historical use patterns and available alternatives, and made two proposals.

First, he suggested eliminating left turns from University Avenue and limiting north-south traffic across University to pedestrians and bicycles.

"This proposal made room for much-needed median refuges in the middle of University Drive," he said. "The concept required creating pedestrian malls in the first block of Houston Street, and across University Drive in the first half-block of College Main. Both pedestrian malls are needed to provide the adequate crosswalk queuing and sidewalk space lacking today.”

Secondly, he proposed increasing the too-narrow sidewalk width along Northgate to accommodate existing pedestrian volumes.

"Both concepts were refined in close cooperation with various agencies, including Texas A&M Transportation Services, Brazos Transit, College Station city planning staff and university officials," he said.

One of the many public meetings to solicit feedback on the proposal took place in November 2009 at the Langford Architecture Center, hosted by the Aggie chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

Jacob said it was a challenge to address the concerns of all of Northgate's stakeholders.

“One particularly tricky concern is getting practical, safe deliveries to Northgate businesses,” said Jacob. “The design improves safety by removing parking from University Drive. Additional safety is gained by replacing some of those spaces with loading zones for deliveries that currently block active travel lanes.”

It took a massive amount of research and agency coordination, said Jacob, to reroute traffic and mass transit lines, and insure that surrounding roadways would handle the revised traffic patterns. He added that it all happened amazingly quickly with the recognition that a much safer facility would result.

"We really had to take extra precautions to make sure we provide for pedestrians and bicycle riders, because they're so important to Northgate and campus life," Jacob said. "We've tried to make it safe, while moving people, goods and services. That's what the department is responsible for."

The effort also required a very close look at Northgate's users.

"If you divide it up into different vehicle types, walking, riding, traveling in a car or bus, that's one way of looking at it, but we found that to get anything meaningful we had to go beyond that and look at the users, where they're coming from, where they're going and what they're doing, rather than how they're traveling," said Jacob. “People will change their travel modes in response to desires and environmental factors. That viewpoint brought us closer to the real needs of the people."

Jacob said his involvement with the College of Architecture's Visualization Lab also served him well, using the experience to create videos of the pedestrian mall concept shown during meetings.

"I was lucky enough to be present in the early years of the lab," he said. "In 1991, while working for the TTI Highway Landscape Program, I began doing highway visualization and animation for various TxDOT projects and spent a lot of time in the Viz Lab."

He said he's been using those skills since then for design visualization and public presentations.

"The Northgate project merged both," he said. "New tools have made the work much more intuitive and speedy. The recent ability to quickly render final images in a wide range of styles from rough marker sketch to detailed realism is very useful in tailoring presentations to the intended audience and focusing attention on broad concepts or important details."

Jacob and engineers on the design team created preliminary 2-D Microstation layouts, which served as the basis for project imagery.

"Using mostly Google Sketch-Up Pro, I built 3-D models, then texture-mapped my site photography to the surrounding buildings," he said. "I rendered still images and animation segments in SketchUp, then edited the segments into short movies with Apple iMovie."

Jacob has also been busy designing modern aesthetics into many regional highway structures. To learn more about his efforts in local bridge aesthetics, mosaics and other artistic flourishes to area highways, see the spring 2010 archone. e-newsletter story.



- Posted: Sept. 22, 2010-

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Contact:   Phillip Rollfing, or 979.458.0442.


Maury Jacob

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