University Parks Drive: safety first, construction later

Photo credit: Rewon Shimray

Waco is a college town, but does not have the proper road and safety measures that students need to walk to the farther parts of campus and parts of Waco that are in walking distance. The City of Waco owns the portion of S. University Parks Drive that reaches from Dutton Avenue to La Salle Avenue, and there are some major issues with the way these roads work in regards to pedestrian and biker traffic. Some issues can be solved by simply putting in the time to walk to safer crossroads, but some require a change in the way the roads work.

S. University Parks Drive is one of the best known outlining roads of the Baylor campus. It marks the entrance to campus as well as the path to the pedestrian bridge. On special occasions, like football games and Fountain Mall events, the road is closed down from every direction to ensure the safety of the large amounts of people walking across the street. The almost comical amount of road blockage makes it very clear that the campus is aware that it is not a safe road to cross on an average day.

S. University Parks Drive is a continuously busy road. It is the connection between an interstate and a highway and leads directly to the downtown and Cameron Park areas of Waco. It is also the divider between students and the Mayborn Museum, athletic buildings and marina.

Numerous students cross S. University Parks Drive throughout the day in order to go to classes and training, as well as to eat at the athletic dining hall. S. University Parks Drive has two crosswalks located between Dutton Avenue and Baylor Avenue, and at Bagby Avenue, but both locations add to the lengthy walk across campus, being about half a mile from the buildings that most students are crossing the street for.

Students instead choose to cross S. University Parks Drive wherever there is a break in traffic. Regardless of how traffic-aware students may be, it is still dangerous to cross the street when there is a constant flow of traffic moving at a speed of 45 mph. Pedestrians and bikers should realize this danger and wait to cross in areas that are traffic controlled.

There is a similar danger father down the street, where S. University Parks Drive meets La Salle Avenue. There is a slew of apartment complexes along the road, and many students walk or bike to campus when there is not a bus running or they do not have access to a car. These students are without a sidewalk or a crosswalk to make their way across La Salle Avenue, which has a very complex light system.

Balyor has collaborated with the City of Waco to have a bus system for students to travel the distance from apartments to campus, but there cannot be a complete dependency on the bus routes. Buses can run late, or have a schedule or route that isn’t helpful to certain students. While it is important for students to exercise general road safety, there are many areas without a sidewalk,and the crosswallk at La Salle Avenue is outdated and not fully safe.

According to Eric Galt, Waco’s newly appointed traffic engineering manager, the city is aware of the need for improvement on certain parts of S. University Parks Drive. There are current plans for the addition of sidewalks and plans to alter the crossing at La Salle Avenue, according to Galt. These changes are in the works, although they don’t have a specific timeline at this point. Additionally, the crossing at La Salle Avenue is owned in part by the Texas Department of Transportation, so any changes must go through the company before being approved.

Galt sees much improvement in the future of Waco’s traffic systems, but reminds the public that when making changes to roads, a balance must be found between pedestrian, biker and driver safety.

Making a difference is not only up to the city itself. Choosing to take a safer route and practice traffic awareness is always best practice, but if there is a specific danger that is difficult to avoid, let someone know. Sometimes issues are not dealt with simply because they are not seen as pressing or important to enough people. If you feel endangered on the way to class, make a call, express your discomfort. While timelines are still underway, it might be time to make sure that S. University Parks Drive is seen as a high priority, one call at a time.