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PUBLICATIONS Inside Illinois Vol. 25, No. 8, Oct. 20, 2005

UI works with cities to improve pedestrian safety

By Sharita Forrest, Assistant Editor
217-244-1072; slforres@illinois.edu

UI Photo

University and city officials are looking at ways to keep pedestrians safer on campus following the death of freshman Sarah Channick of Deerfield, who was struck and killed by an MTD bus while crossing Sixth Street at Chalmers on Sept. 29.

It was the second fatal bus-pedestrian accident on campus in less than a year. In October 2004, a UI graduate student was struck and killed by an MTD bus as she crossed Gregory Drive at Goodwin Avenue. Both students were struck by turning buses. Two other bus-pedestrian accidents occurred on campus between the two fatalities.

UI, Champaign and Urbana police have stepped up enforcement, issuing warning citations to drivers who exceed the 25 mph speed limit or fail to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. Pedestrians who ignore “don’t walk” signals and fail to yield to traffic are garnering written warnings as well.

“There’s no joy in this, but we really have to educate everyone on safety,” said Lt. Skip Frost, UI police department. “Everyone who has a vested interest in this campus has a vested interest in staying safe.”

Radar trailers that display a driver’s speed have been placed on campus streets as a way to help slow traffic, and, pending approval by the city councils of Champaign and Urbana, speed limits on campus streets will be reduced from 25 mph to 20 mph.

The UI has begun repainting crosswalks, adding a message urging pedestrians to look before crossing.
Drivers and pedestrians will have a few weeks to start practicing safer habits before police start handing out tickets instead of warnings.

While feedback from the public in relation to the increased enforcement has been largely positive, a few violators who were caught in the act grumbled comments about police spending their time nabbing jaywalkers and speeders instead of “real” criminals, Frost said.

“But people really have a much greater chance of being hurt in a vehicle-pedestrian accident on campus than being the victim of a violent crime,” Frost said.

Pam Voitik, director of Campus Services, said civil and environmental engineering professor Rahim Benekohal is studying 25 crossings on campus and the volume of pedestrians and traffic at each, including the crosswalk at Sixth and Chalmers streets.

MTD officials have begun installing devices that beep when buses are turning. Bus drivers have been asked to slow down to 20 mph on campus and make eye contact with pedestrians; pedestrians are being encouraged to do the same with drivers through a safety campaign on the buses.

Voitik said other possible measures being considered are decreasing the frequency of buses traveling certain routes, assigning campus routes to the most senior bus drivers and decreasing the number of bus stops.

In the wake of the accident that killed Channick, Chancellor Richard Herman asked for an emergency meeting of the UI, Champaign and Urbana officials involved in the Campus Area Transportation Study, which provided suggestions to improve pedestrian and traffic safety following a fatal accident that involved a UI student 10 years ago.

“Somehow we have to figure out some way we can have a combination of less traffic, slower traffic and wiser pedestrians,” Herman told the group. “The status quo is not acceptable. This really is a plea for help.”

“I’m ready to get the sororities and fraternities to put on orange sashes and be safety monitors,” he added.
Some of the suggestions from the CATS study that were implemented to enhance safety on campus streets included restricting traffic on the 800 block of south Wright Street to buses only and redirecting traffic on other nearby streets.

A special subcommittee of the Technical Advisory Committee of the Campus Area Transportation Study, which includes MTD drivers and UI students, is meeting weekly for a month to look at short-term and long-term measures to further improve safety.

The committee also will look at what has been done on other campuses and whether the plans that came out of the Campus Area Transportation Study need to be changed. The study will likely involve a consultant to review the bus routes and level of bus service on campus.

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