March 12, 2004

Auto Accidents Few but Serious

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After a car hit a student Monday night on East Avenue, members of the Cornell community may be paying more attention as they cross major campus intersections.

Approximately 20,000 pedestrians, 10,000 drivers, and 5,000 bicyclists cross campus each day, according to the Cornell Transportation and Mail Services website.

The sheer numbers and density of people at Cornell result in a few accidents nearly every year. This accident was the first this year, and there were none in 2003. However, in 2002, a pedestrian was hit by a car on East Avenue, and there was a fatal bicycle accident. Likewise, in 2001, two students were hit by cars, one on campus and one in Collegetown. The March 2000 death of Michelle Evans ’01 has been the only fatal pedestrian accident in recent years.

One of the main causes of accidents between pedestrians and cars is people not paying attention to their surroundings.

The main cause of pedestrian accidents is failure to yield right of way by both parties, according to Susan Powell, manager of appeals, Cornell Transportation and Mail Services.

As part of New York’s crosswalk law, passed last year, drivers are required to yield to people walking in a crosswalk. Powell said that she thinks drivers have become more considerate of pedestrians in crosswalks since the law was passed.

“I think behavior has improved in general,” Powell said.

However, some pedestrians step out into traffic quickly, not allowing drivers enough time to stop, which is also against the law.

“You can’t just step out blindly in front of a vehicle that cannot yield to you,” said David Lieb ’89, communications and marketing manager for Cornell Transportation and Mail Services. “It’s a matter of mutual respect and cooperation in order to make the law practical.”

Despite the law, many students still choose not to use the crosswalks. Jaywalking is a common problem that causes some accidents, Lieb said.

Transportation services and the Ithaca Police Department offered some tips for both pedestrians and drivers to stay safe.

Both Powell and Deputy Chief Dave Barnes of the Ithaca Police Department said that the key is staying alert.

Barnes said students need to remember “the old adage of be aware of your surroundings and be careful of what you are doing.”

In a conference call with The Sun with Powell and Lieb, Powell said students should wear light colored or reflective clothing at night. Lieb added that bus-riders should never walk right in front of a bus after getting off and that drivers should never pass buses stopped in the traffic lane.

Cornell transportation is also discouraging people from driving through campus if possible.

“We do recommend drivers avoid driving through central campus at the most congested times of the day,” Lieb said.

As part of this effort, Cornell transportation is trying to decrease the total number of cars on campus. They sold fewer student parking permits this year than they had in 16 years, and more Omniride bus passes than ever before.

Also, because of transportation’s efforts, one-third of the University’s faculty and staff has agreed to find alternatives to driving to work in single-person vehicles. Some employees have started carpooling together, others take the bus.

In addition to efforts to reduce traffic, transportation has installed large fluorescent signs and markers in the middle of the road to make drivers more aware of crosswalk locations. The University also has a plan to work with the City of Ithaca to improve the sidewalks and bike lanes on the Thurston Avenue bridge.

The University may consider closing or limiting traffic on East Avenue at some point in the future, as suggested in a letter to the editor in Wednesday’s Sun. However, limiting traffic could be logistically impossible.

“It becomes a difficult thing to control and to monitor,” Lieb said.

Powell said that rerouting roads has been done in the past, as College Avenue once ran from Collegetown straight to the current location of the Johnson Art Museum. Transportation is waiting for the results of a commissioned study of traffic circulation before they would consider making any drastic changes.

Student views on pedestrian safety on campus appeared to be split.

“I feel pretty safe, it’s not like a big city,” said Statia Luszcz ’07.

Christy Tao ’07 said she has had problems with some inconsiderate drivers in the past.

“I wouldn’t say all of the drivers were annoying, but there are a significant amount, especially for being on campus,” she said.

Archived article by Shannon Brescher