The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

    Campus crosswalks unsafe, inconvenient

    Can pedestrians and vehicles safely coexist? On our campus, buildings are so far apart that driving becomes a necessity, but parking is so crazy that most students try to avoid the parking mess by walking to and from classes. This mix of heavy traffic and pedestrians creates an issue that we need to address. There are many factors that go into making a community safe for pedestrians such as well-maintained sidewalks, adequate lighting and pedestrian education. Crosswalks are the places where pedestrians and vehicles converge. How can we keep both drivers and pedestrians safe at crosswalks?
    Although pedestrians and cars have been mixing since the invention of the automobile, there have only recently been thorough studies of crosswalk safety. Most of the findings are common sense.
    According to the Illuminating Engineering Society American Standard Practice for Street and Highway Lighting, all crosswalks should be well lit.
    The study also showed that pedestrians have a false sense of how visible they are to drivers at night. Pedestrians in an unlit crosswalk thought they could be seen at twice the distance that the driver of an oncoming car reported actually seeing the pedestrian by the light of headlights only. Installing a crosswalk without proper lighting is like equipping a city police force with golf carts instead of patrol cars; it may save money, but it doesn’t make anyone safer.
    Another study by the Highway Research Board found more than 42 percent of all car-pedestrian accidents in crosswalks occurred when the pedestrian “suddenly appeared in the driver’s view,” such as coming from behind a parked car or dashing into the street.
    Safe crosswalks should provide enough visibility for drivers to see pedestrians approaching either end of the crosswalk. On the other hand, it probably wouldn’t hurt to send some MSU students to remedial kindergarten training in the art of looking both ways before crossing the street.
    The 1992 Traffic Engineering Handbook points out the importance of making crosswalks short. According to the handbook, “Wherever possible, right-angle crossings of the streets should be used to minimize exposure to vehicles.”
    The less time spent crossing the street, the fewer chances the pedestrian has of being hit. Keeping crosswalks short also helps avoid traffic delays and keeps the drivers from becoming frustrated enough to run over the next person who tries to cross the street.
    The most important aspect of crosswalks is the one we tend to overlook the most. Making crosswalks accessible to people in wheelchairs should be the top priority for anyone who wants to improve crosswalks on our campus.
    Wheelchairs are not as visible to drivers, and disabled students count on clearly marked crosswalks to help them cross the street without being hit by a car, but what good does a crosswalk do for a person in a wheelchair if they can’t get to it? Every crosswalk on campus should have a ramp leading from the sidewalk to the street. Even a small curb makes it dangerous for a wheelchair to go down and almost impossible to back up on the other side.
    So, how do our campus crosswalks measure up? The majority of crosswalks on campus are well-designed, lit at night and accessible to wheelchairs, but there are still quite a few problem crosswalks that need serious attention. In all the places where recent renovations have been done, the crosswalks are consistently well-designed. Our current maintenance personnel have done a great job, but on older roads, crosswalks are less safe.
    Anyone driving around campus can easily see the problem areas. There are at least four crosswalks that have no lighting at all, such as those on the west side of Rice Hall on Magruder Street. Others are poorly lit, like the one crossing Barr Avenue in front of Suttle Hall. Any sane person would think twice before crossing an unlit street at night. Perhaps the university needs to issue reflective vests to all Suttle Hall residents and visitors.
    How many times have you nearly hit a pedestrian walking out from between the parked cars on Lee Boulevard near the parking meters? With crosswalks coming out from between the parking spaces, pedestrians seem to pop out of thin air like squirrels trying to become roadkill. The crosswalk is needed in that location, but it certainly isn’t safe.
    The same crosswalk on Lee Boulevard has another ironic flaw. There are a few handicapped parking spaces conveniently situated next to the crosswalk; unfortunately, both sides of this crosswalk end at a curb. A wheelchair user parked in one of these handicapped spaces will find themselves conveniently trapped in the street. This isn’t the only location with a problem like this. There are at least nine other locations with no ramps at crosswalks.
    One of the most ridiculous crosswalks on campus is the one crossing Tracy Drive at Darden Avenue. Most crosswalks connect two places where people can walk. Walking across this crossing, however, will land you in a muddy lawn. Where did the sidewalk go? Was this some kind of weird social experiment? Are they playing with our minds? If any graduate student is looking for a thesis topic, this crosswalk would make a good one.
    There are some extremely long crosswalks, such as the crossing of Barr Avenue between Hamlin and Suttle, that could be shortened by making them cross the streets at right angles. Rumor has it that a marathon is planned for later this spring in that crosswalk.
    Then there are the odd places where a crosswalk obviously should be, but there is not. The best example of this is at the intersection of Tracy Drive and Lee Boulevard, just outside the University Florist. Although there are sidewalks on both sides of this interection, there is no marked crosswalk, and the path where pedestrians must cross is just behind the stop bar for cars coming up Tracy Drive. Drivers don’t know if they should stop short of the bar or pull up past it to let pedestrians by. Pedestrians are left with an interesting choice of trying to stop traffic or crawling over the tops of cars in order to cross the street.
    On the positive side, the university has done quite a bit lately to improve the quality and safety of our crosswalks. Over the last few weeks, maintanance personnel have repainted several worn-out and faded crosswalks to make them more visible.
    Construction is nearly done on the bike path and pedestrian sidewalk connecting University Drive to the Chapel of Memories. The crosswalks along the new route are well-lit and wheelchair accessible. All of these improvements have been long needed and will be greatly appreciated by everyone on campus.
    It seems that the university cares enough about pedestrian safety to consider it when designing new roads and sidewalks, but they still haven’t done enough to repair the existing problems.
    Perhaps the administrative staff just don’t understand the importance of the situation. If all the university officials responsible for budget planning were to spend a day in a wheelchair and try to visit every building on campus, they would probably allocate the funds to install ramps at every crosswalk.
    More than likely, crosswalk improvements will be a long time coming. Until then, we can all help the situation by slowing down when we drive and being more alert when we use crosswalks. Some simple improvements and a little courtesy can go a long way toward making our campus a safer place to walk.

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    Campus crosswalks unsafe, inconvenient