Crosswalk Crisis

Safety Director Urges Students to Cross Cautiously

Alex Medrano, Opinion Editor

Last semester, there were two separate incidents in which students were struck while walking to or from the university with one student ending up in intensive care. As a result, concerns about pedestrian safety immerged in regard to the crosswalk in front of Whitley Hall on Culver St. and the one that extends across State Highway 24, connecting Smith and Berry Hall to the main campus.

“Whenever we got together after the last incident, we were like ‘What else can we do?’” Director of Safety & Risk Management Derek Preas said. “There’s got to be other things we can do.”

Between the fall and spring semesters, the university installed a new pedestrian safety system, called a “pedestrian hybrid beacon” in both the Highway 24 and Culver Street locations, since they are both high traffic areas for drivers and pedestrians.

“We reached out to a lot of different entities…a lot of different representative’s ideas, and after thorough research and talking to some of the nation’s best minds about crosswalk safety, we were introduced to this type of technology,” Preas explained. “And, after more research and study, the decision was ‘Yes. Let’s do this.’”

The new system is the result of collaboration between the city, the university, state representative and TxDot. The collective groups have been doing information campaigns to increase awareness about the new beacons, the benefits of driver and pedestrian compliance, and how to use.

Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon (PHB) is user friendly. The pedestrian pushes the button and the light flashes yellow to warn upcoming drivers. The light turns solid yellow, and finally solid red. While the light is solid red from the driver’s vantage point, the pedestrian sees a “walk” indicator, and can begin crossing.

Crosswalks are crosswalks. If you, as a human being, make the active decision to close your eyes and walk straight into a street, there is no amount of training that’s going to fix that.”

— Safety and Risk Management Director Derek Preas

The PHB allows little to chance by having a system for the drivers imitating stoplights and still with a “Walk”/”Don’t Walk” sign for the pedestrians.

“Another reason why we chose the Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon is the amount of pedestrian and driver compliance,” Preas added. “It is around 90 percent compliance. The ease of use, the accessible type options that come with this, the audible cues, the visual cues the Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon was top notch. You can’t get any better than the PHB.”

Although the system is one of the best there are already issues on the user side. Instances of students not using the system and walking through have come up.

”Last night, I went out there for 30 minutes and I had to stop three people because they just wanted to walk right through it,” Preas said. “You can’t forget. You have got to hit that button. There is going to be human error on anything that we do. It’s all the user. It’s how the user uses the technology. We can put every bell and whistle, but if a student makes the decision not to hit that button there is not much we can do about that. We can issue warnings, put out build boards, send out e-mails, we can send out people like we did the first three or four days and stop every student.

“We are considering every avenue to try to train people,” Preas assured. “Crosswalks are crosswalks. If you, as a human being, make the active decision to close your eyes and walk straight into a street, there is no amount of training that’s going to fix that.”

The university’s Department of Safety and Risk Management has been promoting their information campaign of the PHB through mass e-mails to the faculty and students, flyers on campus and around town, training for the RA’s, and sending people periodically to help out pedestrians with the new PHB system.

“We are discussing seminars and meetings but there is not an exact plan for a specific meeting,” Preas said. “I am currently working on revising the new student orientation and getting some information for that. We have done a large campaign to get out information to the mass public, but it only goes so far as our community. You have to remember these are state highways, and so we aren’t going to be able to reach everybody on these roads, but we have reached out to our local communities.”

Since last semester’s two incidents, the university is hoping this will improve pedestrian and driver safety. The Department of Safety and Risk Management will continue their information campaign and awareness over the new crosswalks system.

If there is any doubt or sense of unease for the pedestrian, they advise you to use the facilities around you wisely and to be aware of your surroundings.

Questions regarding safety on campus can be directed toward the director of Safety and Risk Management at 903-468-8781 or the University Police Department at 903-886-5868.