With survey, University examines pedestrian safety

The Yale Traffic Safety Committee will work closely with the Yale College Council and the Yale Police Department to promote safer traffic conditions for pedestrians around campus.
The Yale Traffic Safety Committee will work closely with the Yale College Council and the Yale Police Department to promote safer traffic conditions for pedestrians around campus. Photo by Philipp Arndt .

Following a series of car crashes and traffic incidents over recent years, the University is reaching out to students to improve pedestrian safety on campus.

In an ongoing effort to examine traffic conditions on New Haven roads, the Yale Traffic Safety Committee has developed a campus-wide web-based survey to collect information on areas that are difficult to navigate or in need of repair. As the committee is collaborating with the University administration, the Yale Police Department and the Yale College Council to improve pedestrian safety on and around campus, the survey will help identify unsafe intersections, poor road safety infrastructure and other dangerous high-traffic areas, said Kirsten Bechtel, associate professor of pediatrics and chair of the Traffic Safety Committee.

“Our concern is safety all over campus, and this survey will certainly inform our prevention efforts to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety,” Bechtel said.

A subdivision of the Yale Safety Committee, the Traffic Safety Committee was created in May 2011 after the death of Mila Rainof MED ’08, who was struck and killed by a car when crossing the College and South Frontage intersection. This was only one of a series of traffic accidents around campus in the last 10 years, including the May 2006 death of Alexander Capelluto ’08 after he was struck by a truck two-thirds of a mile from the Yale Bowl and the August 2009 van crash that killed a Hamden resident.

In May 2012, the Graduate Student Assembly compiled a report that identified a series of troubling intersections on or near campus, including those between Elm and York Streets and between S. Frontage and York Streets. Building on the momentum of the 2012 intersection report, Bechtel said, the Traffic Safety Committee decided to create and disseminate a survey to gather input about traffic safety from students, faculty and other members of the Yale community.

“We wanted to expand our reach and really understand where students felt the most concerned about traffic safety issues,” said Ben Ackerman ’16, the student representative to the Traffic Safety Committee and the author of the traffic safety survey.

The web-based survey allows participants to voice their traffic safety concerns and, through an interactive map, select areas on and around campus where they would like to see improvements. The user-friendly design, Ackerman said, was one of the goals as he was creating the survey.

“Unlike many surveys, this one certainly does not cause too much inconvenience to students,” he said.

According to Bechtel, the Traffic Safety Committee has been working with masters of the 12 residential colleges and with the Office of Environmental Studies to distribute the survey around campus. As of Wednesday evening, approximately 150 students — primarily undergraduates — had submitted their responses to the online survey, Bechtel said, adding that the committee is now concentrating its efforts to reaching out to medical and graduate students as well as students from the professional schools.

While the survey is still open, preliminary results have corroborated the findings of the 2012 intersection report, Bechtel said. Some of the areas that students identified as dangerous to navigate include the intersection between College & Prospect Streets, the Temple and Wall intersection and the crosswalk between Old Campus and Cross Campus on Elm Street.

“All of these areas are extremely important, as they affect students’ day-to-day life,” Ackerman said.

Meanwhile, the results of the traffic survey will also be part of the report that the YCC will present to President-elect Peter Salovey to give recommendations about a variety of topics, including mental health resources, alcohol disciplinary policies and introductory science courses. In a January meeting with Bechtel and Ackerman, YCC President John Gonzalez ’14 discussed general traffic safety issues and troubling areas that can be addressed in the short-term.

“We hope to take the results of the survey and the work of the University Traffic Safety Committee to prioritize a list of solutions to traffic safety that we would like the University to explore,” Gonzalez said, adding that the YCC will highlight the survey in its future weekly newsletters. “Maintaining a YCC-University Traffic Safety Committee relationship is crucial to this.”

He also said that he will meet again with members of the Traffic Safety Committee in early April.

University spokesman Tom Conroy said that the results of the survey will be reviewed by members of the Traffic Safety Committee, Yale planners and the city’s Department of Transportation, who will work jointly to consider future improvements to intersections, crosswalks and other related measures.

In addition to the traffic safety survey, Bechtel said, the committee is currently working on collecting objective data, such as crash statistics from Yale Police and the New Haven Police Department and injury statistics from local hospitals.

While City Hall maintains purview over any infrastructure remedies, the findings of the survey and of these other projects will help the Traffic Safety Committee to cooperate with city authorities in allocating financial resources, Bechtel said.

Meanwhile, she added, changing the mindsets of pedestrians, bikers and drivers in New Haven will remain one the committee’s priorities.

“Modifying an infrastructure takes time and money, but the behavior of pedestrians and drivers is easier to change,” Bechtel said.

The Traffic Safety Committee is funded by the University’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety.

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