“Cars never stop, they just don’t care.”
“Not all cars notice the lights in time to stop.”
“Three or four times this semester people have refused to slow down, I had to stop and wait for them to go by.”
This is just three of the 41 written responses to the anonymous survey that was sent out this past week to Northwestern’s students. The survey covered the issues regarding the safety concerns with the crosswalk on the east side of campus, used to cross highway 281.
Out of the 147 people that participated in the survey titled “Students vs. Hwy 281”, 56.3% of students said that they felt unsafe while using the crosswalk.
An 80.5% of students that took the anonymous survey said that they use this crosswalk at least once a week. From free lunch at the Bible Chair on Mondays, free lunch at the BCM on Wednesdays and just the extra available parking, students are always using the this resource as a way to make it back and forth from campus.
“I run Cross Country for NWOSU and I live in the Baptist Collegiate Ministry Building (BCM) as the intern.” One anonymous survey participant said. “I have to cross that spot every morning at 5:50 a.m. I will press the button every time I cross; now not very often do cars pass by at that time but when they do they don’t stop. It is just like they ignore the lights. I am always cautious when crossing so I don’t get hit, but it has also happened in the middle of the day when people can see you as well. It is almost like sometimes they are trying to beat you so they don’t have to stop, or they just are not looking because they are on their phones, or messing with the radio.”
“It is like some people view stopping for pedestrians trying to cross as an option or even a challenge.” Collin Fouts, a senior at Northwestern studying Agricultural, said. “I park over in front of the BCM almost every single day of the week due to limited campus parking and because it is closer to Jesse Dunn. It is like I am having to dodge cars and semi-trucks just to be able to make it across the street.”
A difficult part about this issue is that the crosswalk does not belong to Northwestern itself. I was able to speak with Steve Valencia, Associate Vice President for University Relations about the concern to student’s safety while crossing at the crosswalk. “The sidewalks and ground on to the west side of the crosswalk are the property of Northwestern are where the schools liability end.” Valencia said.
Northwestern has gone through the construction and maintenance of installing the ramp along with keeping the pathway clear from leaves or any other debris. But it is clear that once a student steps off of that sidewalk and into the crosswalk, the responsibility now falls completely into the student’s hands.
“The physical safety of our students, faculty, staff, and visitors is always of utmost concern to the NWOSU Police Department.” Joel Johnson, Chief of Police for NWOSU campus, said. “We place those safety needs in highest priority. Each and every time we receive a report of any possible problem, we make every attempt to respond immediately.”
Twice during the past academic year, campus police addressed issues with this crosswalk in acts to try and make it safer for students to use on an everyday basis. The first issue was that the caution light was not remaining on, to give enough time for pedestrians to make it fully across the street. This was found to be from an electrical problem within the light mechanism.
The second instance was the fading “stop” letters on the posted signal pole. This in particular made it difficult for drivers in the southbound lane to be able to know of a possible stop.
For both of these problems, Johnson contacted the Oklahoma Department of Transportation as well as the City of Alva to make sure that the problems would be properly fixed. Along with responding to reported issues, Johnson also periodically monitors the crosswalk at high traffic times like Noondays for the BCM.
But what about the not so popular times of the days? The penalty for running a school zone at a speed greater than 20mph during the times of 8am to 4pm, is a ticket of double fines. The Alva Police department has officers patrol the local elementary, middle and high school areas every morning and afternoon to make sure that drivers are respecting these laws.
I spoke with Patrick Hawley, the Assistant Chief of Alva Police Department, about other safety concerns. “We don’t have man power to just have somebody out there all the time, but the officers that are in the area patrol it when they see it go off.” Hawley said. “Any law enforcement that has jurisdiction can patrol that crosswalk. Whether that is campus police, Oklahoma Highway Patrol or Alva Police officers.”
Not everyone affected by this crosswalk are pedestrians walking across the street. It is also an issue for drivers who are passing by. In the survey, 69.2% said while driving by campus, they stop when lights are flashing and then proceed when no one is in the road. However, this is when the caution lights have been activated and were able to be seen in time to stop.
The survey had a question regarding if people activate the caution light while using the crosswalk, only 77.9% responded yes. This means the remaining 22.1% of students are not actively doing their part to protect themselves against oncoming traffic.
“They were crossing and did not activate the caution lights.” One anonymous survey participant said. “There was a large truck stopped to turn east and I was not able to see the person crossing until I was already into the crosswalk.”
“The lights are difficult to see and it’s hard to slow down immediately, especially if it is raining. Some students walk out before looking.” Another anonymous student said.
Some of the suggestions that were written in on the anonymous survey were ideas such as installing a full on stop light, adding a camera to capture the images of the tags on the vehicles who do not fully stop and repaving the road, for a more even surface.
“Maybe make the flashing lights more visible to oncoming traffic.” One anonymous survey participant wrote. “I notice sometimes it can be hard to see the flashing lights when driving down the highway. However, it’s easy to see the bright flashing lights at night, helping those who might be going to evening activities. I am concerned about everyone who uses the crosswalk.”
A suggestion made by Hawley was for Northwestern to go through the process of changing the area to a designated state school zone. It is easy for people to say, “Just avoid the crosswalk” or “park somewhere else on campus”. But this is not always an option for everyone.
Students need to remember that until further change is made to improve this area for both pedestrians and drivers, they need to be using the caution light at all times, looking both ways and making sure drivers are able to come to a full stop before crossing the street.