Major safety changes coming to campus

By Danielle Gaines

An emergency meeting of the Technical Committee of the Champaign-Urbana Urbanized Area Transportation Study met Thursday. Chancellor Richard J. Herman requested the meeting in response to the death of Sarah Channick.

“It had us reflecting not only on the loss of an individual but also on the accidents of last year,” Herman said. “We need to discuss newer safety measures,” he added.

Herman said that he has received hundreds of emails in response to Channick’s death and stressed the importance of a quick reaction in regards to campus safety. Members of the committee established a set of immediate reactions, forthcoming changes and long-term changes.

“I am accountable to the students and parents of the University. We have done a lot, but we ought to look ourselves in the mirror. Have we given enough?” Herman asked those in attendance. “We are not where we need to be in terms of safety,” he added.

Immediate changes in the University District include roadside speed indicators, repainting of crosswalk lines and a proposed 20 mph speed limit.

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    Police said that they would begin more aggressively ticketing pedestrians for jaywalking in the University District beginning Friday.

    The University, the City of Urbana and the City of Champaign all agreed on the lower speed limit.

    Pam Voitik, director of Campus Services, said the University would post new speed limit signs as soon as it gets the final word from city councils.

    William Volk, managing director of the Champaign Urbana Mass Transit District, said that the MTD drivers would begin driving 20 mph in the University District on Friday.

    In repainting the crosswalks, a new message warning pedestrians to look before crossing will be added to the ground in front of the crosswalk. The message will be discussed by both cities and the University to ensure uniformity.

    The City of Champaign will deploy roadside speed indicators beginning Friday to curb speeding.

    To address the need for forthcoming goals, the committee established a new meeting structure. The Technical Committee, with the addition of students and MTD bus drivers will meet once a week for the next month to discuss additional changes. The first public meeting will be Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. in the Illinois Terminal conference room.

    Herman requested that students be included in the new meetings.

    “The students are the people on these streets all of the time.” he said. “The changes being discussed involve them, and they should be done with their consent.”

    Volk said that the MTD has operated for 34 years and 32 of them were without fatalities.

    “We are – as much as anyone – devastated by the situation. We are saddened, but moving ahead. Safety is our number one priority,” said Volk.

    After last year’s accident, the MTD was audited and no deficiencies in their safety and training program were found.

    “We still need to continue evaluation,” Volk said.

    Volk noted that neither of the accidents was speed related, but that both occurred when the buses were turning. Equipment changes to buses including an audible beep or strobes that would go off when turning are being investigated by the MTD. The city of San Francisco has successfully equipped their buses with the audible beep system, but has received noise complaints about them.

    The ongoing Campus Area Transportation Study will address long-term safety measures. The Study was started after the death of another University student, Carolyn Jeffers, in an attempt to improve safety for all travelers.

    Through the study, transportation zones were created, prioritizing different modes of transportation in different areas of Champaign and Urbana. The area containing most of campus lends priority to pedestrians.

    Several traffic reductions and safety techniques including the narrowing of streets, diagonal parking and nose downs, the pulling out of curbs to shorten pedestrian paths, have been developed through the study.

    The next step in the study will be to publish an educational component, raise pedestrian awareness, enforce traffic laws for both pedestrians and vehicles and plan for future physical improvements.

    “The cornerstone of any safety presentation is personal responsibility,” said a University police officer in attendance. “Students need to understand that the yellow signs do not give you the right to walk whenever you want,”

    As part of the safety program, students and bus operators are encouraged to establish eye-to-eye contact with one another. Safety messages will appear in media advertising, schedules, the Illinois Terminal and on STOPwatch signs.

    Champaign Mayor Gerald Schweighart urged students who are mourning to put pressure on other students to increase safety.