Yale intersections endanger pedestrians

On March 27 a man was struck and critically injured by a car while crossing N. Frontage Road at College St. Over the following weeks, discussions of pedestrian safety at that and neighboring intersections have grown louder.

Over the past decade, various petitions from pedestrian safety organizations, medical students, faculty and staff have aggregated thousands of signatures in support of slowing traffic on Frontage Road, which is adjacent to the Medical School. That particular intersection was ranked the fifth most dangerous intersection on Yale’s campus in a 2012 report that aggregated data from crash reports, resident complaints and observational surveys.

This collision is the latest in a series of injuries and deaths, including that of a medical student in 2008, that have occurred along Frontage Road, the high-speed four-lane road branches off of Route 34 and cleaves the medical complex from the rest of campus.

Though hundreds of pedestrians cross the intersection every day, including students, faculty and staff commuting between central campus and the medical campus, the intersection is far from walker-friendly, according to New Haven Safe Streets Coalition Coordinator Mark Abraham ’04. Buildings are offset from the road, and the stoplight does not allow enough time for pedestrians to cross the four-lane road.

“This intersection is designed from the perspective of the driver,” he said. “It’s adjacent to both the medical quarter and downtown, which both have a high density of pedestrians. As a gap between two pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods, it presents a conflict.”

The city’s Downtown Crossing project, slated for completion in 2016, would convert Frontage into slower, narrower city streets — the way they were before Route 34 was constructed in the 1960s.

The Downtown Crossing project, now in its first year of construction, is already responsible for the demolition of the highway exit adjacent to the intersection that Peter Reinhardt, director of Yale’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety, said accounted for much of the risk and excessive speed at that particular junction.

Still, he said, a huge part of the problem is that drivers have the perception that they are still on the highway and are less aware of pedestrians crossing.

“The road is structured like a highway, so drivers are less cognizant of pedestrian safety,” said Luis Maldonado-Vásquez SPH ’15, who crosses Frontage Road daily to get back and forth to the School of Public Health. “People are trying to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible.”

Though the area is expecting a makeover, the string of pedestrian collisions, including the one two weeks ago, illustrates the need for more immediate action to be taken to calm traffic, advocates said.

Over the past few years, in response to these concerns about pedestrian safety on Route 34, the city has periodically stationed police officers and crossing guards to enforce speed laws and promote safe crossing. Reinhardt said this has been by far the most successful measure taken to reduce collisions.

At the moment, no crossing guards or police are stationed at the intersection, in part because traffic enforcement has not been a high priority for the city lately, he said.

“The issue in general should be a higher priority, because this not only impacts victims of these crashes, but also the anatomy of the city depends on having more walkable streets and more access to places on foot,” Abraham said. “Having to cross dangerous intersections like this makes people less likely to walk around the city and more likely to drive.”

Abraham said other short-term measures like narrowing lanes and installing speed trailers, which show drivers their speed as they pass by, could also be helpful.

A 2012 report identified cars running red lights at the intersection as the main issue at the N. Frontage-College intersection.

In 2008, residents rallied on the online forum SeeClickFix, to call for the city to install crosswalks and signals. One post described crossing Frontage as “a life or death situation every time.”

Due to overwhelming community pressure, the city quickly installed the signals at Frontage Road intersections.

But the signals did not bring the sense of security residents demanded. Maldonado-Vásquez said the lights regularly malfunction, telling pedestrians not to cross even when the stoplight is red. This lack of trust in the signal, coupled with the urgency of getting to class on time, encourages many medical students to cross in defiance of the signal, he said.

There were 15 crash reports filed at the Frontage-York intersections between 2005 and 2008.

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