Crossing the road, not the line: A review of sidewalk and road safety

By Jackson Gilbert

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This spring, a jogger was killed on the south end of campus while running on the road in an area where there is no sidewalk. An investigation into the accident is ongoing, and the accident has raised questions regarding sidewalk availability and safety on campus.

Oakland University is a commuter campus, where less than 20 percent of students live on campus.

The campus is cluttered with parking lots and the first few weeks of classes are often frustrating for students, faculty and staff due to the lack of parking spaces that are close to classrooms.

Last fall, the 500-bed Oak View Residence Hall opened, raising the on-campus student population to more than 2,000. That means more foot traffic and potentially more obstacles for the drivers roaming campus.

The new foot traffic is raising new demand for sidewalks and an awareness of what the rights of pedestrians are against the rights of cars.

According to Oakland University Chief of Police Mark Gordon, right of way always favors pedestrians on crosswalks.

“Pedestrians in the walkway always have the right of way. Cars must yield to people crossing the roadway when there is a marked walkway and the pedestrian is crossing the roadway within that area,” Gordon said “Pedestrians do not have the right of way when they cross the road in any area other than that.”

But the laws vary for runners and bikers. The Michigan vehicle code states, “Where sidewalks are provided, a pedestrian shall not walk upon the main traveled portion of the highway. Where sidewalks are not provided, pedestrians shall, when practicable, walk on the left side of the highway facing traffic which passes nearest.”

Bikers are considered vehicles on the road.

“Bikers must travel with the flow of traffic.  When they are in the roadway, they must adhere to all traffic regulations just as if they are operating a motor vehicle,” Gordon said.

Kelsey Zuchowicz, president of OU’s cycling club, said she’s had great experiences with the “idyllic” campus.

However, she said she’s had a few close calls with cars on campus. Knowing that cyclists have the same rights of passage as cars is important for the safety of bikers.  

Zuchowicz suggested that having more integrated sidewalks and bicycle lanes around campus could help with the safety of both the cyclists and pedestrians, alike. She also noted that having the bike lanes could decrease the vehicle traffic on the road and alleviate some of the parking congestion, something that grinds all of our gears.

Syed Murtaza, running club president and an avid jogger, offered a similar perspective.

“I do believe that OU is runner-friendly, in fact I think the campus has a vibe that makes you want to be active,” he said.

Murtaza has been running most of his life and has spent the last two years running on Oakland’s campus. He said he’s never had any encounters with traffic, nor does he know anybody that has, but it’s not always safe.

“Just yesterday I was using the crosswalk and someone passed by a couple inches in front [of] me going maybe 35 or 40 (miles per hour).”

He said he believes that it’s usually the commuters, not the on-campus students, who cause problems for runners and pedestrians.

The campus recreation website lists three running routes — a 2.2, 4.3 and a 6.5 mile loop around campus, with two of these loops not following a sidewalk the entire time.

Instead, the maps suggest runners run alongside roads near the golf course clubhouse and along Pioneer Drive, downhill from Pawley Hall.  

All of the routes explore the golf course section of campus near Meadow Brook Hall, an area both Zuchowicz and Murtaza referenced as one of the more appealing.

But despite the recommended areas generally seeing less traffic than the main part of campus, sidewalk is a rarity on both Meadow Brook Road and Pioneer Drive.

“We schedule road and sidewalk work every year in July and August,” associate vice president of facilities management Terry Stollsteimer said “Sidewalks should be added where needed.”

Other extraneous factors at play include funding, scale of sidewalk projects, and the fact that it is difficult to enforce the use of sidewalks if new ones are constructed, according to Stollsteimer.

The two presidents agreed that laying sidewalk along those sections of road would help keep Oakland’s “runner-friendly” vibe alive.