After multiple collisions and near-incidents have occurred on Elon’s crosswalks throughout the first month of students being on campus, students have been voicing concerns and asking for more communication from the university, according to Campus Safety and Police. Campus Police and the town of Elon have opened discussions about possible courses of action, but said with a limited budget, there is little that can be done.
All roads that pass through and border campus — crosswalks included — are regulated by both Campus Safety and Police and the town of Elon. According to Elon Police Chief Joe LeMire, most of the 650 security cameras on campus are on the roadways, and if instances are reported where cars did not stop for pedestrians in the road or were driving dangerously, footage will be reviewed and license plates will be identified.
LeMire also said that, as with drunk driving, assault and other misconduct cases, traffic violations are referred to Elon University Student Conduct, with or without a citation from Elon Police.
According to LeMire, mitigating danger associated with campus crosswalks has been a recent topic of discussion after three collisions have occurred since last spring. LeMire said some of these options include a campaign on safer driving or make sure people understand the danger of driving recklessly.
“The bigger part of it is going to be: let’s stop some people and maybe provide some education, especially to people that maybe weren’t paying attention or knew they did something against what the law actually is,” LeMire said.
LeMire said there is an upcoming meeting being planned with Elon Police, the town of Elon and possibly a representative of the North Carolina Department of Transportation to discuss if the recent accidents and near-incidents could have been avoided with better signage or a different type of crosswalk.
A crosswalk that has been a concern for many students is the intersection of East Haggard Avenue and North O’Kelly Avenue. Formerly a blinking yellow traffic light, it now acts as a regular light and displays pedestrian signal heads: the light with a white walking person or a red hand.
Adam Reisman, a freshman who lives in the Kenan Honors Pavilion right next to the crosswalk, said he didn’t expect the change. Reisman said he uses the crosswalk on East Haggard six or seven times every day. When the traffic pattern was changed, he said he didn’t realize it at first and was nearly hit by a car.
“Now that they’ve changed it, no one really knows what’s going on,” Reisman said. “A lot of students have said that it needs to be changed.”
Freshman Dylan Yrastorza is also an Honors Fellow living in the Pavillion by the crosswalk, and he said he prefers the change with pedestrian signal heads, though the change was not communicated.
“They should set up a sign right next to the crosswalk,” said Yrastorza.
Freshman Molly Lorden is another Honors Fellow who lives right next to the crosswalk.
“It's always very crowded because of the intersection and confusing to navigate,” Lorden said.
According to Reisman and Yrastorza, during class changes, crosswalks get backed up with both cars and pedestrians quickly — especially at intersections with pedestrian signal heads, such as the one at East Haggard Avenue and North O’Kelly Avenue.
“It takes so long for it to be our turn that most people just walk out when they know they don't have the right of way,” Lorden said. “The pedestrian lights need to be in a shorter loop because pedestrians are being unsafe because they feel like they'll be late otherwise.”
Yrastorza said he was at Powell Tennis Center on Aug. 31 when a pedestrian was struck by a car at a crosswalk on East Haggard Avenue.
“Right when the person got hit, you could hear the sound,” Yrastorza said.
According to the police report, the pedestrian was struck at the center of a “clearly-marked” crosswalk and sustained “significant bodily injury,” causing visible blood spatter on the road.
According to LeMire, the amount of collisions and near-collisions so far this semester is not unusual.
“All college campuses that are heavy populated areas will have a lot of crosswalks and a lot of people,” LeMire said. “Normally on a road where you might do the one or two looks, you probably should do a third or fourth look until you actually go.”
LeMire said turning out of parking lots has been a source of many near-accidents, as drivers looking to the left before turning right neglect to look to the right again to make sure no one is crossing the street in front of them.
According to LeMire, there have also been instances of cars speeding and not slowing down when approaching crosswalks, especially during busy times such as class changes.
LeMire said squad cars are sometimes stationed on the roads — especially those leading into campus from public roads — to discourage speeding.
Lorden said she sees the effects of cars speeding within campus’s private roads.
“I have seen people have to slam on their brakes to avoid hitting pedestrians,” Lorden said. “I wouldn't say student drivers are reckless, but that intersection is stressful for everyone involved and it shows. I've been yelled at by student drivers for crossing even when they have a red light.”
Some students, including Reisman, said they want it to be changed back to the blinking yellow traffic light, while others, such as Yrastorza, said they prefer the current setup with pedestrian signal heads. Nevertheless, there has been confusion among students on what the change means.
“It’s just not a great system,” Reisman said. “A pedestrian thinks they can cross, so another pedestrian tries to cross from the other way, and it just causes backup because no one knows the rules. No one communicated them to us.”
Lorden also said there has been a lack of communication about crosswalks at Elon.
“I do not think crosswalk safety has been communicated,” Lorden said. “I haven't seen or heard anything from Elon about the safety issues caused by the crosswalk. I think students should be more informed about crosswalk safety.”
According to LeMire, most of the incidents this semester have occurred in broad daylight. LeMire said he thinks that a large part of the issue is distracted pedestrians; students using headphones or looking down at phones aren’t aware of their surroundings and can walk onto a crosswalk without looking, creating dangerous situations.
“They think they have the right of way, and maybe they do once they step out there, but they’re not paying attention, and you can still be right and injured at the same time,” LeMire said. “Against a car, you’re just not going to win that fight.”
LeMire said students should improve their situational awareness to stay safe on campus.
“Get your head on a swivel and pay attention to what’s going on around you, because not all drivers are good drivers,” LeMire said. “Not all drivers are going the speed limit. That’s something people have to watch out for.”
Town Manager Richard Roedner said adding more cross signals around Elon’s campus would be helpful, but there is no room in the town budget.
Roedner said a single installment may cost from $20,000 to $30,000 — too high of a cost.
“If people are not going to use the walk signals, from a policy standpoint, why would you spend money on that?” Roedner said.
He said the most efficient way to improve the situation is better road education.
“Ninety-nine percent of the problems would go away if people pay better attention,” Roedner said.
Although some states legally require cars to stop if a pedestrian is standing at the curb, that is not the case in North Carolina, according to Roedner. A car must only stop if a person is already walking on the crosswalk. Roedner said because most students do not know that, both walkers and drivers are put in danger.
“I’m in the right, you’re in the wrong, but you’re being hit by a 2-ton vehicle, that doesn’t go very far,” Roedner said.
Roedner said he hopes as people become more aware these incidents will decrease.
“They’re not accidents; they’re collisions,” Roedner said. “With an accident, you can’t help an accident, but with better education, you can prevent a collision.”