Feb 132012
Authors: Jason Pohl

Anyone who has stepped foot on or around the CSU campus probably agrees that crossing streets can be a crazy game of Frogger.

And recent data suggests that navigating campus may be more dangerous than it was a few years ago.

The number of pedestrians hit by vehicles between 2007 and 2010 more than doubled to 58 crashes, according to city traffic data. Statistics for 2011 show that that number dropped back down to 40, still higher than two years ago, begging the question, “How safe are you when you cross the street in a city that prides itself on being bike and pedestrian-friendly?”

Eric Wesolowski, a freshman chemistry major, has seen several near-crashes in his time in Fort Collins, some with cars and some with bikes. Still, he said people don’t seem to understand how dangerous the roads can be.

“I think something major will eventually happen that will cause a lot of commotion around campus,” he said.

City officials recognize the increased number of incidents of all types around the city, prompting a more in-depth look at crash trends, locations and patterns.

“We’re definitely concerned,” said Joe Olson, a traffic engineer with the city. “We’re trying to take a bigger-picture view of the crashes… in an effort to make improvements.”

The areas on and around campus create special “hot zones” for incidents, according to the report. Intersections along Laurel Street to the north and Shields Street to the west have especially high accident rates. The intersection at Elizabeth and Shields Street is one of the worst in the city.

But this isn’t exactly news to Olson.

“Students definitely have an impact on the numbers,” he said. “This isn’t that surprising given that students tend to be the biggest walkers and bikers in town, but it certainly illustrates an area where we would like to see improvement.”

These changes are constantly being made, with the most recent being a flashing strobe light and crosswalk on Laurel Street.

The complete report from 2011 has not yet been released, but Olson said that a lot more factors are being taken into account. Drawing overarching conclusions based on two years of higher incident rates, he said, would be dangerous.

“The truth is that crashes are, at least to some extent, random,” Olson said.

Lieutenant Chris Wolf of the CSU Police Department explained the cause of many incidents he has seen on campus with one word: distraction.

“Being able to hear things coming up behind you is greatly diminished when you have those things on,” he said, stressing how pedestrians, cyclists and motorists are all guilty of texting, listening to music or just not paying attention.

But the car will always win.

“They don’t pay attention, and that’s when bad things happen,” Wolf said.

The prime spots around campus include the intersection at Plum Street and Meridian Avenue, according to Wolf. He said that, as the university goes forward, the priority will become how to keep cars and pedestrians separate as much as possible.

“I’m always surprised we actually don’t have more collisions between bicycles, pedestrians and cars,” he said.

Moving forward

As CSU strives for a bike- and pedestrian-friendly campus, education will remain key. Part of that means keeping motorists informed.

“It really has to be clear as to what you need to do at those intersection points,” Wolf said, adding that different lights, signs and streets can sometimes be confusing.

Beyond that, cyclists have to obey laws, and pedestrians have to be alert.

“I think a lot of people don’t know bikes are treated like cars on the road,” Wesolowski said, referencing his own experience with a bike ticket. “A lot of people don’t know the rules.”

Construction may make for traffic nightmares, but as a university that sees an entire new class every year, the reality of closures, like Meridian Avenue, will become natural, according to Wolf. This change in mindset, he added, will have an amplified effect across society. This may offer compromise to the great battle that seems to have been waged on the streets between vehicles and pedestrians.

“I think it’s going to have to be a culture shift,” he said. “As Americans, we are dependent on our cars. We’re so used to hopping in our car and driving two blocks to get somewhere.”

Though the future of cars on campus may change, streets may close, and accidents may happen, Wolf said the transition to a more bike-friendly way of transit may ultimately be the solution to accidents of all types.

“It’s going to be a gradual shift,” he said. “Really, everybody has to work together to make it work well.”

Senior Reporter Jason Pohl can be reached at news@collegian.com.

By the numbers
Pedestrian incidents:
2007: 27
2008: 30
2009: 32
2010: 58
2011: 40

Top pedestrian incident intersection near campus
Plum and Shields

Top cyclist crash intersections near campus
Elizabeth and Shields
Prospect and Shields
Laurel and Mason

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