Campaign looks to boost street safety with spray paint

Signs such as the one above have been placed on six of New Haven’s major intersections as a part of the Pedestrian Safety Campaign, launched by the Yale Traffic Safety Committee.
Signs such as the one above have been placed on six of New Haven’s major intersections as a part of the Pedestrian Safety Campaign, launched by the Yale Traffic Safety Committee. Photo by Yale Daily News.

Students walking out of Old Campus Monday were greeted by fluorescent orange messages spray-painted on the sidewalk at the intersection of Elm and High streets.

With all-caps slogans like “Don’t read this. Look up!” and “Look both ways before crossing,” the warning messages sit on the sidewalks of several campus intersections as part of the Pedestrian Safety Campaign launched by the Yale Traffic Safety Committee. Collaborating with the University administration and the city of New Haven to improve pedestrian safety on campus, the committee put up posters and stenciled brightly lettered warnings at six major intersections — Elm and High, Chapel and York, Elm and College, Elm and York, Wall and Temple, and Chapel and College — in an effort to alert distracted pedestrians as they navigate the high-traffic streets around Yale’s central campus.

“Up to 25 percent of people crossing the streets in New Haven are texting, talking on the phone or listening to music,” said Kirsten Bechtel, associate professor of pediatrics and chair of the Committee. “These signs are meant to remind people to look up and be vigilant as they cross the street.”

The campaign is the result of a campus-wide survey developed by the committee last spring to collect information on areas that are difficult to navigate or in need of repair, Bechtel said. More than 720 members of the Yale community — including undergraduate and graduate students, professors and staff members — responded to the survey, voicing their concerns over aggressive drivers, dangerous pedestrian crossings and unsafe intersections.

According to the survey results, areas identified as most concerning were the intersections between Temple and Wall, College and Wall, College and Grove, Elm Street and Cross Campus, and York Street and South Frontage Road. The Yale Traffic Committee used the findings of the survey to launch “a graphic design campaign” to highlight the areas perceived as most troubling by students and professors, Bechtel said.

The stencils for the campaign, she added, were designed by Jay Shells, a New York City-based artist who attracted media attention earlier this year after he installed faux street signs emblazoned with hip-hop lyrics at several locations throughout the Big Apple. The signs themselves are expected to wear out within two or three months.

Bechtel added that the Yale Traffic Safety Committee collaborated with the city’s Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking to roll out the campaign, a partnership that originated after a series of fatal traffic accidents hit the Elm City in recent years, including the death of Mila Rainof MED ’08, who was struck and killed by a car while crossing the intersection between South Frontage Road and York Street.

Building on the momentum of these high-profile incidents, the city passed an ordinance in September 2010 to create “Street Smarts,” a campaign that aims at promoting traffic awareness and safety among pedestrians, motorists and cyclists.

“We recognized that we can’t rebuild every single road in the city,” said Jim Travers, director of the city’s Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking.

He praised the Yale Traffic Safety Committee’s efforts to educate and change the mindset of pedestrians, bikers and drivers in the area through the orange warning signs.

“We live in a society where we are constantly multitasking,” Travers said. “With this campaign, we’re asking people to slow down, have patience and be safe.”

Earlier this summer, members of the Committee stenciled orange warning messages around the Yale School of Medicine, Bechtel said. The signs have been favorably received by members of the medical school, prompting the Traffic Safety Committee to extend the stenciling to other intersections closer to Yale’s central campus.

Seven out of 10 students interviewed expressed approval for the campaign, although some had not noticed the signs installed at the six intersections.

For Seth McNay ’17, the orange warning messages are a “creative” way to remind pedestrians to remain vigilant as they navigate the campus streets. Lauren Blonde ’16 said she is “a huge fan” of the orange signs spray-painted on the sidewalks, adding that these messages are important not only to generate awareness among pedestrians but also to ignite discussion over traffic safety.

“As someone who both walks and drives through downtown New Haven regularly, I think pedestrian traffic control is necessary for both the people walking and the people driving,” Blonde said. “We get easily distracted when we’re walking, and too often I see people get pulled back onto the sidewalk after nearly getting into an accident.”

But other students appeared skeptical of the orange signs’ ability to improve pedestrian safety on campus, noting that the fast-paced rhythms of life at Yale override safety concerns.

“All I know is I have class in five minutes and I’m still going to jaywalk,” Julien Ham-Ying ’17 said.

Every year, approximately 100 New Haven adults are injured after being struck by a car, according to data released by the University’s Traffic Safety Committee.

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