Over the summer, crews built a decorative traffic island between Crestland Avenue and Frazer Drive NW in the center lane of East Maple Street.

NORTH CANTON  About 70 feet of concrete and grass is causing a small stir on East Maple Street.

Over the summer, crews built a decorative traffic island between Crestland Avenue and Frazer Drive NW in the center lane of East Maple Street.

It's part of a beautification plan for the road, which connects Market Avenue with Main Street and runs along the Walsh University campus.

Those plans are a few years off. For now, the island stands alone.

"I can see the confusion," said Robert Graham, acting city engineer. "You drive by and scratch your head; you wonder, 'Why just one island in this stretch of roadway?'"

The island

The single island was originally part of a quartet of large, decorative strips planned for the center of road.

They would have landscaping or lighting or trees — whatever Walsh decided to do — and would tie into a larger design plan for the street, Graham said.

North Canton's police, fire and EMS department opposed the plan because the islands could make it difficult for motorists to get to the side of the road for passing emergency vehicles.

The city told Walsh the islands couldn't happen, Graham said. "We can't do it. We can't add response time because seconds are critical."

So the two parties came up with an alternative — two smaller elements that would bookend the university district. The existing island on the western end and another on the eastern end, near Market Avenue N.

The eastern island will be part of the ongoing Ohio Department of Transportation Market Avenue (Route 43) project and likely won't be built for  a year, if not longer, Graham said.

The western island was constructed this summer in tandem with a paving project. The city and the Stark County Engineers Office received grant funding for about 50 percent of the paving project, Graham said, adding that he was not sure of the city's final cost for the project as the county was finalizing that information.

The city built the island and Walsh is taking the lead on landscaping and maintenance. The city planted grass for the interim.

The university hasn't finalized its design plans, but is looking at something low-key that won't impede traffic or block views, said Brian Greenwell, Walsh's vice president for administration and chief information officer.

The island could include greenery, a sign welcoming folks to campus or lighting, he said. The island is wired for electricity and water. 

At Monday's City Council meeting, city officials squashed rumors of a fountain in the middle of the street.

Traffic concerns

Some residents aren't pleased with the idea.

Terry Holben has lived at his East Maple Street home for 43 years. He's watched as traffic has increased and was caught off guard when the island was built in front of his home.

"It's the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen," he said, adding that residents weren't notified in advance.

Though the island doesn't block his driveway, Holben said, it's impeded his ability to turn left into the driveway. Before, he could pull into the center lane. He now must drive past the island and make a u-turn.

Holben said his neighbor, who drives a large truck, can't back out of the driveway without hitting the island's curb.

Holben took his concerns to city officials and spoke out at the Aug. 14 council meeting.

North Canton is looking for a solution to Holben's issue and researching costs, Graham said.

The city will likely shorten the island by several feet, he said.

Even if his problem is fixed, Holben still has concerns.

The island is a safety hazard that will only get worse once the weather turns, he said.

"I've been here a long time," Holben said. "I don't want to be the one who has to help somebody in a bad accident. And that's what's going to happen."

Traffic studies have shown that the area can support the two small islands, Graham said.

In an Aug. 30 email to city officials, Police Chief John Minock wrote that he supported the new additions.

The department receives regular complaints of speeding, passing and improper lane usage on that stretch of East Maple, he wrote.

"As my officers cannot always be present, I see these installations not only as a welcome splash of green space, but also as a way to consistently deter these unsafe actions by motorists traveling through our city. They should not be a problem for an attentive driver using the lanes as they are intended."

What's next

North Canton and Walsh University are partnering on a plan that would connect the city and the campus. Drivers coming into the city via Maple Street would travel through a university district that features new lighting, a pedestrian friendly walking path and landscaping that complements the look of downtown.

The goal is a university district that feels distinct but still ties into the rest of the city. "Almost like one big community," Greenwell said.

Walsh has been in North Canton since the 1960s but folks view the university as separate from the city, he said. That began to change with the development of the Washington Square shopping plaza. And future developments, including Walsh's plans to rehabilitate an empty corner lot, will boost that connection, he said.

"The more we can tie in and become one community, it helps North Canton and it helps us, too, and our students," he said.

The plan is inspired by the city of Wooster and its relationship with the College of Wooster, Greenwell said.

It will be a few years before residents will see the idea come to fruition, he said.

Reach Jessica at 330-580-8322 or jessica.holbrook@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @jholbrookREP.