Ellison: Safe campus, unsafe streets

With well-advertised programs like 2-WALK and the Minibus, as well as the healthy distribution of blue phones around campus, any student who feels apprehensive has means to get home safely. Despite the occasional warnings from Police Chief James Perotti, Yale deserves a reputation for having a safe and secure campus.

Yet I have one safety concern, which has nothing to do with security. All of us (especially those of us who live in Saybrook and Trumbull colleges) are familiar with the musical chimes at the crosswalks at the corner of York and Elm, indicating we have a 20-second window of safety to walk to Au Bon Pain or Yorkside or Tyco. Unfortunately and dangerously, these 20 seconds are often not reliable for pedestrians.

The problem derives not from pedestrians, who generally seem to heed the crosswalk signals well, but from brazen drivers, especially during peak hours in the afternoon or during hectic move-in days. The problem is twofold. On the one hand, drivers waiting to turn right onto Elm Street from York Street often ignore the “No Turn on Red” sign and drive directly into pedestrian traffic even when the 20-second chime tells us we can safely walk. On the other, drivers stopped on Elm Street waiting to continue straight on Elm frequently fail to slow down for yellow lights and/or even run red lights.

This results in a chaotic mess of drivers weaving through pedestrians crossing the street. Just the other day, I had to signal “Stop!” with my hands as a driver recklessly continued down Elm even as I had the right to cross the street. What if I had been visually impaired? If a blind person cannot necessarily feel safe crossing the street even when the “Walk” signal is sounding loud and clear, then we know we have a problem.

In fall 2006, a Yale student, Kaila Queen ’07, was struck and injured by a car at the similar intersection of Elm and High streets. According to the report in the News, Queen said she remembered seeing the “Walk” signal, and the next thing she knew she was lying in a pool of her own blood by the post office. The intersection at Elm and High shares a problem with that at Elm and York: a “No Turn On Red” sign that drivers often ignore.

Queen was disabled for several days and fortunately recovered quickly, but we may not always be so lucky. Having lost a brother to a fatal car accident in 2002, I know what pain an accidental vehicular death can cause a family. What a tragedy it would be to lose anyone here at Yale to negligent drivers when the problem could be rectified.

I suggest a few possible solutions to this problem. One is to make the “No Turn On Red” signs more prominent and to enforce the traffic signal with increased penalties to drivers who ignore them. There should also be more of a delay between the red light on Elm Street and the beginning of the 20-second crosswalk signal, preventing drivers who speed through yellow lights from having to weave through a crowd of pedestrians.

More radically, I suggest increasing the crosswalk time at York and Elm to 25 or 30 seconds to give pedestrians a longer window to cross. Such an increase would hardly be an imposition: The crosswalk signal at the less-frequented intersection between Chapel and Church streets is a full 30 seconds.

Any combination of these suggestions would increase the safety at this heavily trafficked intersection and increase the general safety of our campus.

Tim Ellison is a senior in Saybrook College.

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