It's been six months since the city of Bloomington came up with a plan to address safety concerns for bar patrons and police officers trying to handle as many as 1,600 people pouring into the streets on busy weekends. The solution appears to be having the desired effect but so far, it comes with a price tag of $80,000 because police officers used for the additional downtown detail are considered "hire backs," and not part of the regular schedule, therefore they are paid time-and-a-half.
The re-worked traffic configuration applies to Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights between 10 p.m.-3 a.m. It has a squad car with flashing lights and one to two officers stationed in the 500 block of Center Street at the so called Y to allow only party buses to drop off, park, and pick-up bar patrons. Additionally, a squad with one to two officers is parked at Mulberry and Main to prevent vehicle traffic to go west. Taxi and other licensed-for-hire vehicles such as Uber are only allowed in spaces on the east side of the 400 block of Main, typically where shuttles used to wait.
Sergeant Bill Wright says the improved safety is better than anyone expected. "We are getting people out of downtown in a much more safe and efficient manner than what's been done before." And, he says there have been unexpected benefits with people coming from bars along the 400 block of Main such as Daddios and Kilarney's Irish Pub who no longer dart across the street because they see the squad car and don't want to get a ticket for jaywalking.
"Instead of them stepping out into traffic and causing more issues, it is utterly amazing the amount of kids that come down that sidewalk all the way down to where the squad car is and they use that painted crosswalk to get across and then they just keep going down the sidewalk and head on over to the shuttle buses, Wright said with a big smile. He also thinks more people are using shuttles and other services instead of getting behind the wheel because it's so much more convenient and orderly.
"I think a lot of people are realizing, even if it costs you $25 through Uber or Lyft to get a ride home, the benefits of that or getting a DUI and with the cost of that, the $25 pales in comparison." He added, "DUI arrests related to the downtown area have dropped from a year ago."
When the city implemented the plan, it was not embraced by everyone. Companies with smaller shuttle vans wanted a third location.
But, Jesse Corbridge who drives for Bob's Party Express said the new traffic pattern has relieved congestion and improved visibility. "Before they changed it, it was a mess. Everybody was worried about getting a spot you know, the closer the spot the closer the people, but now it seems much better," she said while waiting in an empty shuttle. Cornbridge has an advantage because her boss rents out a parking lot just east of the 500 block of Center, east of Six Strings so she is always closer than the other shuttles.
When the city implemented the changes, leaders promised to do a review after the first six months. Assistant City Manager Steve Rasmussen said the city has received compliments from bar owners and there have been no negative comments received in the past four to five months. But, he said the city is looking at options for gate arms for the 500 block of center. "The new plan has been great for controlling crowds and limiting fights but we need to control costs," he said.
He said the cost of having five officers in the area for four to five hours three nights a week has amounted to $80,000. He said the city council recently agreed to gradually increase liquor license fees but, as he put it, "that won't put a dent in it," referring to the cost of the extra police presence. While he admits the gate arm installation could have significant start up price for installation, it could result in a significant cost savings over time.
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