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January 8, 2003

Groups target pedestrian safety

Campus and community groups are joining forces to help alleviate safety concerns, particularly for pedestrians, on the Pittsburgh campus.

The chief of Pitt’s police department, Tim Delaney, addressed pedestrian safety and related matters at the December meetings of both the Staff Association Council (SAC) and the Senate’s community relations committee. The latter meeting also included invited guests from two Oakland community groups.

See Senate Matters column.

In the wake of last October’s pedestrian fatality near the construction site of Pitt’s Biomedical Science Tower 3 (Oct. 23 University Times), campus safety concerns were raised at Faculty Assembly and University Senate meetings. The community relations committee, chaired by Tracy Soska, agreed to tackle the issue by bringing community and University leaders together for discussion.

“There was a general consensus [at the Dec. 8 community relations committee meeting] that while motorists are prime targets for action, pedestrians also are ripe for education and [law] enforcement,” Soska said. “That Oakland represents an ongoing transient population in constant need of education was also a common theme of the discussions. The occasional tragic incidents galvanize our concerns.”

According to Pitt’s Chief Delaney, “There were 10 pedestrian vehicle-related accidents in 2003, three of which involved bicyclists” within the confines of the Pittsburgh campus.

Delaney reported on recent Pitt police initiatives at both the SAC and community relations committee meetings.

These include:

  • Upgrading the campus-wide emergency phone system. “There are about 430 emergency phones [campus-wide],” Delaney said. Following an alert from a Pitt staff member of loose wires and missing phones in the O’Hara parking garage, Delaney ordered an overhaul of the entire system. Pitt has ordered new software that allows officials to check the phones remotely; it is expected to be installed in the near future, he said.
  • Installing pedestrian right-of-way signs in select crosswalks, such as on Bigelow Boulevard between Forbes and Fifth avenues, on Terrace Street near Scaife Hall, and on Roberto Clemente Drive.

Unfortunately, the signs are popular targets of theft. Delaney said he searched for thief-resistant portable traffic signs that rise higher from the ground than the front of a car for increased visibility, but the least expensive model cost $40,000, and the one he preferred cost $100,000.

“There also are real concerns of liability,” the police chief said. “Once you put that there, you’re the one responsible for directing the pedestrian and then if something happens you can be held responsible.”

He added that the current signs were effective in getting cars to yield, but were snarling traffic during heavy travel hours, particularly on Bigelow. “We have to find a happy balance, because we’re killing the vehicle traffic there,” he said.

  • Stationing a campus motorcycle officer on Clemente Drive, to help slow traffic where pedestrians often cross from the Posvar Hall parking lot to Mervis Hall. “It’s not human nature to go up to the corner crosswalk; pedestrians will take their chances crossing four lanes there,” Delaney said. “So we established a presence: a motorcycle officer sitting at the stop sign during rush hour, three days a week at varying times, [who] maybe writes a couple tickets [for motorists] every once in a while. If nothing else, it’s slowed the traffic down.”
  • Emphasizing pedestrian safety at freshman orientation. “We’re such a transient society, and every year we get a new crop of kids. We need to address the safety factors in walking and common courtesy when you’re walking,” Delaney said.
  • Working with Pitt’s Parking, Transportation and Services on a plan to alleviate traffic and pedestrian congestion caused by Pitt’s shuttles, particularly on Bigelow.

“It was my idea originally to put the buses as close to the students without having them walk through too many intersections,” Delaney said. “If the bus pulls up, picks the students up right away and moves out of there, it’s not such a problem. What we can’t have is them [queued] there on Bigelow.”

Alternatives under consideration are all flawed, he said. The driveway in front of the William Pitt Union is too narrow for easy access by full-sized buses and too congested with students pouring in and out of the WPU; likewise less than ideal is moving the shuttle stop across the street to adjoin the Pittsburgh Athletic Association, which would force students to cross heavily trafficked Fifth Avenue.

“Right now, I’ve asked drivers to stage in front of Frick Fine Arts near the water fountain, because that does the least amount of damage to the traffic in Oakland, but drivers on break who want to get something to eat have to run a couple blocks,” Delaney said.

  • Enforcing double-parking laws. “We do have officers driving around the block and moving people who double-park. We ticket if the vehicle is left unoccupied,” Delaney said. “But it’s like swishing water out of a puddle. At rush hour, I’ve got a group of people who want to leave Oakland and a group of people who want to get into Oakland.” Oakland has a dearth of convenient drop-off/pick-up spots for passengers, and almost no loading docks in the commercial district, he pointed out, both of which contribute to double-parking.

Other problems peculiar to Oakland include the large volume of daily through traffic and the synchronized traffic light patterns on Fifth Avenue that favor vehicles at the expense of pedestrian safety.

Also, no single government entity has authority for Oakland’s streets, Delaney said. Fifth Avenue, for example, is  a city street  while Forbes Avenue is a state road.

The police chief said that enforcing jaywalking laws was not a particularly viable option and would require many more times the police force than currently is available. “The City of Pittsburgh had a total PR mess by citing individuals for jaywalking in Downtown,” he pointed out. Rather, he advocated more educational efforts aimed at pedestrian safety.

Also addressing the community relations committee Dec. 8 meeting were SAC safety and security committee chair James Lyle, Mavis Rainey, executive director of the Oakland Transportation and Management Association (OTMA), and David Blenk, executive director of Oakland Planning and Development Corp. (OPDC).

Lyle distributed a portfolio of some 30 photographs documenting poorly marked pedestrian crossings, unsafe surfaces, hazardous intersections and poor handicap-access at crossings on and near campus.

Rainey reported on OTMA’s focus on pedestrian and bike safety, as well as their involvement in studying Oakland traffic, parking and mass transit. OTMA has petitioned PennDOT successfully to eliminate synchronized traffic lights along Forbes Avenue’s commercial district in favor of alternating pedestrian-phase only signals. OTMA also has launched a bike safety campaign that includes a web-based resource guide (, she said.

Blenk said OPDC hopes to address signage, walk-ability and other physical improvements that could enhance safety. Oakland as a destination versus Oakland as a major thoroughfare has made pedestrian safety a critical issue, Blenk said.

Following the meeting, the committee organized a working group on traffic and pedestrian safety, co-chaired by Chief Delaney and community relations committee member Wes Roher.

The next community relations committee meeting, slated for Jan. 14 at 12:30 p.m., 2117 CL, will be devoted to Oakland safety issues, committee chair Soska said.

—Peter Hart                      




Filed under: Feature,Volume 36 Issue 9

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