A student walking around campus glued to their smartphone or distracted while listening to music is not a rare sight at the University of Idaho. But Moscow Police Lt. Dave Lehmitz said these habits can lead to dangerous situations if students aren’t paying attention.
“Usually what happens is you have a pedestrian that is not paying attention, where the pedestrian will be walking down the road and just make a right turn and walk out into the traffic and get hit,” Lehmitz said.
Lehmitz said bicyclists and pedestrians are at fault for the majority of crosswalk accidents.
“In the last month, we’ve had two bicycle accidents involving bikes and vehicles, and those resulted in the bicyclist actually being cited,” Lehmitz said.
With concern for student safety, the University of Idaho has plans to construct safer walkways on campus, in response to heavy pedestrian traffic.
Carl Root, director of parking and transportation services, said the two areas of concern are on 6th Street in front of the Theophilus Tower, and on Deakin Street between the Student Union Building and UI VandalStore.
The two walkways will have a raised roadway, street divider and cobblestone walkway — among other features — that are intended to slow vehicles down.
“When you drive along here, you’re going to come up a few inches gradually, you’re going to know you’re in a pedestrian area,” said Carl Root, director of parking and transportation. “It’s going to make you very aware you’re in a pedestrian area.”
Root said the divider will have bushes and small trees to narrow the driving lane, which is intended to make drivers feel uncomfortable and slow down.
“If you have a street in town where there is parking on both sides, and it’s narrower, people tend to go slower, the average speeds are slower,” Root said.
Root said the walkways will feature a light at the end of each divider, which will serve as another reminder to motorists that they are entering a pedestrian zone. He said the divider on Deakin Street will have two crosswalks, whereas the crosswalk on 6th Street will only have one.
Root said construction will develop these areas by adding new trees and other foliage, along with new pavement.
“The great thing about these is sort of the duel benefit, we’re going to make it safer for pedestrians, but we’re also going to enhance these areas,” Root said. “These will improve the aesthetics and the functionality of these areas.”
Root said the two locations were identified as areas of concern after an advisory board updated the parking and transportation portion of the campus development plan, which had not been reviewed since 2000. He said the advisory board came up with the concept for the raised walkway, and also analyzed pedestrian and bicyclist safety.
Lehmitz said the two locations are optimal spots for a new crosswalk, due to the large amount of foot traffic that occurs every day.
“That’s where you have the most volume, I mean, you got the Tower, you have Wallace Complex, you have the LLCs, so those are huge crosswalk areas,” Root said. “You have the bookstore directly adjacent to the SUB, where you have a lot of students coming into that area.”
Root said the walkway project is focused on adjusting driver behavior, even though many pedestrians and bicyclists are the cause of accidents.
“You don’t try to design things that are intended to change the behavior of the pedestrian, you design things to make motorists more aware that they are in pedestrian area,” Root said.
Root said the two crosswalks will cost $600,000 and are expected to begin construction on May 15, the Monday after Spring Commencement. He said funds for the project come from a 10-year bond.
“It’s a great opportunity to come up with the funds, and to be able to pay it off over time to accomplish these projects,” Root said.
The bond money dedicated to parking and transportation services includes a $250,000 project to install parking signs on campus with new logos and information.
Root said after construction plans are drawn up, the project will go up for bid — where UI will accept prices from multiple contractors. He said a small committee will likely be formed to pick a contractor based on factors like offering price and overall proposal.
Root said construction will start in early summer to reduce the inconvenience for the UI community.
“There will be a lot of motivation on us and the contractor to do it during the summertime, so they don’t want to be in there when school starts again,” Root said.
Root said he is confident that the project can be finished before school starts in August.
“We’d like to have it done by Aug. 15, cleaned up and ready to go. And so far the consultants and everybody thought that this can be done in a two month window,” Root said.
Lehmitz said it is ultimately the responsibility of the pedestrian and bicyclist to make sure it is safe to cross a street.
“It falls back onto the responsibility of the pedestrian, and it falls back onto the responsibility of the bicyclist,” Lehmitz said. “A lot of people don’t understand that, a lot of people think, ‘well I’m on a bicycle, the rules of the road don’t apply to me,’ but in fact they do.”
Lehmitz said pedestrians and bicyclists should understand they must give cars time to slow down before crossing the street. He said the key to street safety is respecting other pedestrians and the rules of the road.
“If you are a bicyclist you can’t be darting in and around pedestrians, the pedestrian has basically the right of way, you need to yield to those pedestrians on the sidewalk,” Lehmitz said. “(Bicyclists) have to follow the rules of the road, a stop sign becomes a yield sign, a red solid light becomes a stop sign.”
Moscow Police Cpl. Art Lindquist said in a few cases, pedestrians and bicyclists have fled the scene after being hit. He said it is essential that all parties involved wait until the proper authorities arrive to give a statement. Under title 49, chapter 13 of the Idaho state code, it is illegal to purposefully fail to exchange contact information or give false contact information after an accident.
Ryan Tarinelli can be reached at email@example.com