Committee works to make Grounds safer
|A U.Va. student talks on her cell phone on the way to class.
By Katherine Ward
Students in coversation while scurrying from one class to another is nothing new. But sit outside a building at U.Va. today and the sight is much different than it was 10 years ago. The students who emerge from classrooms are chatting …but not to one another. Instead, they are on their cell phones.
This may seem innocuous, but pedestrians talking on cell phones is a growing safety concern, especially on college campuses. As
recently as last week a U.Va. student was struck by a car on Emmet Street after stepping into
oncoming traffic without looking while talking on her phone.
Pedestrian crosswalks are a major safety concern, said Mark Fletcher, chairman of U.Va.’s Security and General Safety Committee and director of Intramural Recreational Sports.
When the committee goes on safety tours, “we stand and watch what happens at crosswalks, and it’s pretty scary,” Fletcher said. “Pedestrians … talk on their cell phones and walk across the street and never even look to see if there’s a car coming.”
Conversely, drivers don’t always pay attention to crosswalks, Fletcher said. For example, there are five crosswalks in less than one block on
Emmet Street. Drivers don’t pay attention to them because there are too many, he said, and it’s unrealistic to think they will stop five times in a row. He urges pedestrians to practice defensive walking by waving and making eye contact with oncoming drivers before crossing streets.
Fletcher’s committee is composed of students, faculty and staff who focus on various issues related to general safety and security. For example, the entire network of blue emergency phones on Grounds is under the purview of the committee, as is an ongoing assessment of crosswalks.
The committee completes a night tour of Grounds each semester to review lighting and other safety issues. They have a preset agenda of which places they will go to based on feedback from the community, or places they have previously altered and would like to revisit to assess improvements. Fletcher said that many employees and students are now concerned about walking from the new Emmet/Ivy parking garage to the hospital, because of the dangerous crosswalk at Emmet Street, where Ivy Road turns into University Avenue.
On the tours, “some of it’s as simple as saying ‘there’s a light out’ or ‘should we make this bus stop safer? Other times it entails detailed studies or more comprehensive discussion,” Fletcher said.
The group, whose members are appointed by executive vice president and chief operating officer Leonard W. Sandridge, also meets monthly to discuss safety issues. “Many of the committee members are faculty and staff who have been on it for many years,” Fletcher said. “They are very dedicated to creating a safe environment at the University. Student members also assist tremendously because of their day-to-day experiences.”
One less blatant but still major safety issue around Grounds is the landscaping. Although it beautifies the University, if it does not stay properly trimmed, it can become unsafe because attackers could use the areas as places to hide. The committee ensures that Facilities Management is aware of these problems and can properly trim overgrown plants, Fletcher said.
The group now is working on the lighting levels along McCormick Road, beginning at the Chapel. They also work with the City of Charlottesville to improve areas that do not belong to U.Va. but still attract its community, such as the current project of adding a stretch of sidewalk across from the Beta house on Maury Avenue.
The committee receives an annual stipend with which to work, so it prioritizes projects and allocates money to the ones with the highest priority. Construction at U.Va. makes the committee’s work “interesting,” Fletcher said. Anything that changes footpaths changes safety conditions, he explained.
Fletcher welcomes safety concerns, even if the issue is not specifically on Grounds. To contact Fletcher with a safety concern or question, e-mail him at email@example.com.