Campus safety: UMass and the right-of-way

Be aware

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(Collegian File Photo)

By Morgan Reppert, Collegian Columnist

A cold war intensifies every day on campus, and it has been intensifying for many years– long before my time here as a student: A longtime territorial dispute that has its opponents at their wit’s end. Whose land is it? Who has the right-of-way? Who should yield to who? Bikers, pedestrians or drivers?

As many as 50,000 people travel through the University of Massachusetts campus each day in cars, motorcycles, mopeds, bicycles, skateboards, scooters and on foot. The foot traffic alone makes the campus intersections and thruways fast-paced and dangerous if you’re not aware of your surroundings. I wouldn’t recommend gluing your nose to your phone while passing the Campus Center: you may just have a collision with another student, biker or even a large L.L. Bean boot­. You never know.

As a pedestrian on a very busy campus, I personally stay attuned to my general surroundings. But even when you look both ways and stay on the defensive, there is always an off-chance of a direct run-in with a biker who decided to go against the traffic pattern. It seems as if all pedestrians, motorists and cyclists are convinced they have the undisputed right-of-way and a disillusioned concept of how campus traffic should flow.

The pedestrian safety awareness campaign that UMass has put forward, Watch For Me, set a few ground rules to ensure safety, like that all motorists, pedestrians and bicyclist respect one another and that everyone follows the rules of the road, remains courteous and unplugs from technology. Now, all those guidelines seem fitting. However, the likelihood that all pedestrians will refrain from listening to their music while walking to class, or that bikers won’t weave through traffic, is low. If UMass students really do matter, there are a few fallacies in this campaign that need to be addressed.

Dear drivers: regardless of the stop signs that you perceive as suggestions, you are legally required to yield to pedestrians. Massachusetts state law mandates that motorists must yield when a pedestrian is upon the same half of the roadway or within 10 feet of vehicle. I know it’s tedious to wait at crosswalks when you could have possibly gone a little faster and not have waited for a gaggle of freshmen to pass. But you wouldn’t run a red light simply for the sake of arriving somewhere maybe a minute or two earlier, right?

Bikers and pedestrians walk with a certain entitlement, whether it be that the law grants them the undisputed right-of-way or that they simply assume the 4,000-pound box on wheels is going to stop for them. That mindset is where we are, caught in a never-ending feud of who has the right-of-way.

A study done by the University of Arkansas reported that 33 pedestrians have been struck by vehicles on their campus over the course of the last five years. The motorists of these incidents found themselves attributing the blame to “jay walking” as the sole cause of the run-ins, but in actuality it was found that in over 25 percent of the collisions, the pedestrian was well within the legally designated crosswalk.

In another study done by John Hopkins University, it was found that of their 59 campus crashes, 12 percent involved pedestrian collisions. After further research of their campus activity patterns, they were able to attribute the issue to the lack of synchronization of walk signals and traffic lights.

Although these are just examples from two universities in completely different geographical campuses, it is well known that this problem is not isolated. There are over 4,700 post-secondary schools within the United States, so take a moment to imagine if these findings were scaled nationally. Considering each accident and collision, regardless of whether they are between bikers and pedestrians, or motorists and bikers, there clearly can be a lot more done to accomplish safer conditions on campuses for everyone.

Accidents happen, and that’s why they are called accidents. But a lot of those accidents would be preventable if everyone were to swallow a little bit of their pride and be just ever so slightly more aware. Pedestrians, take the chip off your shoulder and share the road. Bikers, please slow down and remember that pedestrians are far from consistent. Drivers, listen to the road signals and drive defensively.

Morgan Reppert is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]