Look Both Ways
by Marcia Goodrich
Road construction marks the end of an era
Students at every school share a common set of hair-raising experiences, like freshman chemistry, meatloaf Thursdays, or a summons from a particularly humorless dean. At Michigan Tech, one such experience involved crossing the street.
For more than forty years, US-41 has cut through campus, dividing the largest residence halls from all the major classroom buildings. Every hour during the class change, motorists would be confronted with mobs of students piling up on the sidewalks and then darting desperately through traffic.
Against all reason, vehicle-pedestrian accidents happened with astonishing rarity. But every few years, the idea of building a tunnel or overhead walkway between the halls and the classroom buildings would rise in the community's collective consciousness. Both proposals had serious drawbacks, however: The first was cost. The second was that human beings in motion seek out the shortest distance between two points. Ergo, tunnel or bridge not withstanding, most students would still be running across the street.
Then in the summer of 2009, the Michigan Department of Transportation completed a project that changed everything. Work crews widened the roadway and created a green, traffic-free refuge in the middle, which is traversed by crosswalks. "Students only have to worry about traffic coming from one direction," says Grounds Manager Andrew Niemi. "And with the greenspace in the islands, there's more of a sense of a designated crosswalk. You still get the occasional person who jaywalks, but for the most part, pedestrians are using the crosswalks."
Those same pedestrians are happy with the changes.
"I definitely like it a lot better now," says Keara Scott, a biomedical engineering senior from Richmond. "Before, when you were trying to cross the street, you had to look this way and that. And even if the car on one side of the highway would stop, cars on the other side wouldn't. Now I think drivers are more willing to stop because it's a well-designated crosswalk."
The University also moved the exit for one of its parking lots away from the crossing area, removing yet another stream of vehicles for pedestrians to dodge. "Whenever I had a close encounter, it was from cars pulling out of the lot. I think it was a great move," says James Buckingham, a civil engineering senior from Jackson. "I love all the changes. It speeds up the commute; we're not stuck waiting in long lines for several minutes. And they also expanded the sidewalk in front of Wads, which relieved congestion."
Travis Pierce, director of housing and residential life, says the improvements have had a significant effect on student safety. And, since his office is in Wadsworth Hall, they've also had a significant effect on him: "I no longer feel like I am playing Frogger when I'm crossing 41," he smiles.