Column: Act for safer roads

By Nate Sandstrom

The bus accident that killed Sarah Channick last week is another reminder of how the University and the cities of Champaign and Urbana have failed to deal with pedestrian safety issues in the campus area. Several local government agencies have completed traffic studies and made some changes, but they have not moved fast enough.

An article published in the Daily Illini last spring identified the intersection where Channick was killed as the site of two other accidents where pedestrians were struck by cars during the last school year. One bus driver identified it as the most dangerous intersection on his route. Police reports from accidents identified vision problems at the intersection. The crosswalk lines were reported as faded at that time.

Several intersections were identified as having multiple accidents. A comparison with other schools showed problems at the University were more severe. An average of about one student per month was hit by a vehicle, the study showed. This information was readily available to local government agencies before the report, but even after it was published the community failed to take the issue seriously.

I imagine that the official response to this accident will be that government agencies are completing more training and raising awareness. They can rely on the fact that much of the community is not in the area for more than a few years and new people will arrive unaware of the prior problems.

But is the issue a priority? I see no evidence that is. Committees have met. Studies have been completed. But major changes are bogged down by either bureaucracy or indifference.

Pedestrians are not without fault. Those who have spent time on campus have seen people walk in front of traffic while on their cell phones. But should a moment of inattention result in serious injury or death? Some may say yes, but most people have had a moment where our minds were elsewhere and tried to cross the street when we shouldn’t have.

Some officials have cited the costs of additional safety features as a reason why items like additional crossing signals are not installed. If city and University budgets don’t have money to pay for additional crossing signals and to make sure that crosswalks are painted, then other options should be pursued. Traffic should be routed around the central campus, crossing guards should be added or some other major traffic control rules should be implemented.

Cynthia Hoyle, a consultant who is employed by the MTD to work with other government agencies, is touting looking to other campuses for role models. She cited successes at the Universities of North Carolina and Wisconsin.

Hoyle said it was important to focus on the three E’s – education, engineering and enforcement. She also recognized that education is more than teaching people to cross the street, but college people are aware of that. It’s raising consciousness and creating a change of culture. Anyone who’s gone to other schools has probably seen some close calls, but the disregard for traffic signals I saw at the University is far beyond any place I’d ever seen.

The community needs to prove that this issue is a priority. This year it was Sarah Channick. Last year it was Carolyn Jeffers. How many more families must have the rest of their lives fundamentally changed because local government does little more than say the right things until the accident is forgotten? I hope none, but it is my fear that a fatality a year and a hospitalization every month will become an acceptable casualty rate to the University community and the lives of a few won’t outweigh the inconvenience caused by some changes to traffic rules.

Editor’s Note: Nate Sandstrom is a former Daily Illini staff writer. His May 10 article, “Accidents abound on campus,” which can be accessed online at https://www.dailyillini.com, reported the findings of his examination of University, Champaign and Urbana police records for traffic accidents on campus.