Thursday, September 10, 2009

Yale Senior: Safe Campus, Unsafe Streets

An excellent op-ed from a senior at Yale University about traffic safety issues on the Ivy League campus:

Timothy Ellison's article focuses in part on the elimination of right turns on red (RTORs), a concept many other pedestrian-rich cities throughout the United States have adopted. Eliminating RTORs was a key recommendation in this year's Nelson/Nygaard gap analysis study of Downtown New Haven. An excerpt from Ellison's op-ed:

In fall 2006, a Yale student, Kaila Queen ’07, was struck and injured by a car at the similar intersection of Elm and High streets. According to the report in the News, Queen said she remembered seeing the “Walk” signal, and the next thing she knew she was lying in a pool of her own blood by the post office. The intersection at Elm and High shares a problem with that at Elm and York: a “No Turn On Red” sign that drivers often ignore.

Queen was disabled for several days and fortunately recovered quickly, but we may not always be so lucky. Having lost a brother to a fatal car accident in 2002, I know what pain an accidental vehicular death can cause a family. What a tragedy it would be to lose anyone here at Yale to negligent drivers when the problem could be rectified.

Among the comments that follow this article:

- Yale students are constantly telling anyone who will listen how threatened they feel by reckless drivers, and yet nothing is ever done. Yale and New Haven, this is a life and death issue. Please take it more seriously!

- But I also agree that drivers in the city have gotten increasingly willing to drive through red lights, and when on a bike I am also aware of how crazy traffic and drivers have gotten. So its a complex problem. Traffic calming and more pedestrian friendly routes are for sure needed.

- On several occasions I've witnessed that a police officer ignoring red light violations, in particular when drivers ignore do-not-turn signs. Of course, drivers have every incentive to violate traffic laws when they don't have to fear the consequences.

- The situation on the streets around the campus, which were designed in the 1950s for high-volume auto traffic and never converted back into pedestrian-friendly streets, is completely unacceptable. Numerous students and Yale affiliates are injured or killed every year. Yale already pays tens of millions a year for security - they've done a great job increasing the feeling of security on campus late at night, and in terms of street crime, the campus is now the safest urban university in the United States. Next, Yale needs to immediately 1) step up the traffic enforcement, 2) following the model of Cambridge, MA or any number of other cities, step up and commit to financing the reconstruction of safe crosswalks throughout the campus, as they have in the past in areas where students have been killed, and 3) publish and implement a bicycle and pedestrian master plan that makes the campus accessible for everyone, not just drivers.

Traffic safety has been an ongoing concern on the Yale Campus; see here for more info and here for one of Yale's responses to the problem. In the past, Yale has contributed to infrastructure and traffic calming improvements around its campus, for example, in the rebuilding the entire Broadway district (shown in the photo above) at the heart of the campus to prioritize pedestrian travel.

For a good overview of the issue, you may download a copy of the Yale College Council and Yale community's Report Re: Traffic Safety at Yale University, released in March 2009 by a group of students, staff and alumni, here (PDF File).

If you'd like to add comments to a particular problem on the campus, here are a couple examples from SeeClickFix, a national forum where people can post non-emergency issues that they would like their neighbors, governments and communities to take action on: 1) Dangerous intersection and videos of red light running at the corner of York and Elm; 2) Need for a mid-block crosswalk on Elm Street near High, which is the main pedestrian route across the campus; 3) Improved crosswalk needed at the corner of Hillhouse and Sachem, near Yale's Science Hill; 4) No pedestrian signal on Route 34 crossings, also known to local residents as the Route 34 "Death Zone." Dozens of similar issues can be found by scrolling around the map.

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