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.


  • elm city driver

    I agree that there are many unsafe drivers in this city. At the same time, there are countless pedestrians who cross streets casually while using their cell phone or ipod. As a driver, I have had to stop for so many pedestrians who cross whenever and wherever they please, often against a red light. What bothers me is that many often don’t seem to care that they are blocking traffic. If they did, they would hurry across the road and look both ways before crossing. Many pedestrians need to be much more careful about their street safety.

  • Me.

    Agreed. Yale students are constantly telling anyone who will listen how threatened they feel by reckless drivers, and yet nothing is ever done.

    Yale and New Haven, this is a life and death issue. Please take it more seriously!

  • driver/cyclist

    Having driven the streets of the Elm City for twenty years, I can assure you that the biggest downer is when Yale students return because suddenly the streets all full of oblivious and sometimes what I would call “go-ahead-make-my day” walkers who intentionally walk against traffic signals and glare at drivers. DUring summer, it is a completely different situation.
    But I also agree that drivers in the city have gotten increasingly willing to drive through red lights, and when on a bike I am also aware of how crazy traffic and drivers have gotten.
    So its a complex problem. Traffic calming and more pedestrian friendly routes are for sure needed.

  • cyclist

    What’s even worse, police don’t seem to care when drivers run red lights. On several occasions I’ve witnessed that a police officer ignoring red light violations, in particular when drivers ignore do-not-turn signs. Of course, drivers have every incentive to violate traffic laws when they don’t have to fear the consequences.

  • Turn on red

    I’ve lived in New Haven for nearly a decade, and, as a devoted walker who’s never owned a car, I have a litany of complaints about automobile traffic violations. Still, as a sometimes driver, I know that motorists don’t have an easy time of it either. The “no turn on red” regulation seems unnecessarily restrictive; instead of calling on police to enforce it regularly, I would rather see it eliminated altogether. Jaywalking is another problem, not only on the Yale campus, but also in other areas of the city, such as the Dixwell thoroughfare. The traffic problem in general is a huge problem in New Haven and sorely needs attention; and it will only improve if all forms of traffic obey the laws, if police start to enforce the laws, and if some of the laws are changed.

  • Life and Death

    The situation on the streets around the campus, which were designed in the 1950s for high-volume auto traffic and never converted back into pedestrian-friendly streets, is completely unacceptable.

    Numerous students and Yale affiliates are injured or killed every year.

    Students on ipods or people “jaywalking” have little to do with it. Just as the Federal government has poured hundreds of billions into air traffic control, our local streets and transportation systems must be designed to be inherently safe, as they have been in London, Paris, Cambridge, and any number of other cities throughout the world. Please stop trying to blame the victims for these entirely preventable injuries. And recognize that you aren’t going to stop jaywalking unless you design the street to stop it.

    In terms of risk level to an individual student living here for a few years, traffic injury is literally a more serious safety hazard than all the of street crime around the campus over the past 200 years combined.

    Yale already pays tens of millions a year for security – they’ve done a great job increasing the feeling of security on campus late at night, and in terms of street crime, the campus is now the safest urban university in the United States. Next, Yale needs to immediately 1) step up the traffic enforcement, 2) following the model of Cambridge, MA or any number of other cities, step up and commit to financing the reconstruction of safe crosswalks throughout the campus, as they have in the past in areas where students have been killed, and 3) publish and implement a bicycle and pedestrian master plan that makes the campus accessible for everyone, not just drivers.

    The author makes a good point – it’s not just about the injuries. Campus accessibility, and the feeling of community and easy interaction that a vibrant campus is based on, suffers as a result of having streets that are difficult if not impossible for many to cross. Just talk to anyone who has lived or worked at Yale while being disabled.

  • New Haven Safe Streets linked to your article
  • Doodad 764

    It would also help to close High St thru Old Campus to vehicular traffic(except Yale service vehicles). would help safety and immeasurably improve the ambience of Old Campus.

  • cyclist_and_pedestrian

    This is a much bigger problem than Elm and High Streets. Due to a complete lack of enforcement by the New Haven Police Department, drivers seem to feel that their need to hurry justifies endangering the lives of those other humans not in cars who are clogging up the streets. And this problem gets WORSE in the summer because the New Haven driver has fewer pedestrians to slow them down.

  • SY 11

    I agree, Doodad – you don’t expect traffic on High, but then it whips down at 30 miles per hour suddenly.

    This should be a pedestrian priority street, there’s no reason it needs to look like a highway!

    Many students/faculty have been seriously injured along High, right by Old Campus, even though it looks like a peaceful place.

  • cyclist/driver

    I can agree that there are driver related problems in and around the campus and outside the campus as well.

    But I think some perspective is needed. When you are driving a car, and are on the way to meetings, and have a green light and arrogant college kids walk out in front of you and if you dare honk, you get flipped off, yelled at etc…this has happened not once or twice but literally hundreds of times. There is a point where obliviousness blurs into arrogance.

    But since we won’t agree–how about some hard data. Get some grant money. Get some traffic counters to monitor car volume. THen get some cameras and see how many vehicular and how many pedestrian violations occur in a given time period.

    DOnt even bother counting knuckleheaded cyclists on fixed gear bikes going against traffic, though lights, on sidewalk, off side walk. Second thought, count them too.

    How about it? SOme cold hard data might help this discussion instead of drivers are bad.

    Has anyone noticed that last year Whitney Avenue, THE major artery leading in and out of New Haven was shut down right at the entry point to the Yale Campus?

    Has anyone noticed that now Prospect Street is shut down for the next year?

    Any ideas how this might impact car traffic and driver sentiment about getting around the Elm City.

    Really? A YEAR to fix some tiny freekin bridge?

    No wonder drivers are in a rush. They have been diverted around dozen of blocks due to the incredibly poor city and traffic design this town has. Anyone like to do a study of the one way streets in New Haven and how many tabs of LSD the designer was on when they came up with this traffic plan. Sheez.