Waco needs to increase pedestrian safety

Rewon Shimray | Cartoonist

Why did the student cross (in the middle of) the road? Maybe they’re trying to get free tuition, or maybe there aren’t enough safety measures taken on streets surrounding college campuses.

A 2016 study by the Governor’s Highway Safety Association showed an increase in pedestrian deaths nationwide, and Waco is no exception. Data from the state crash-records database shows a 133 percent increase in pedestrian deaths in McLennan County between 2016 and 2017. However, statewide 715 pedestrians died in 2016 and 629 died in 2017. The previous six years saw an average of 494 deaths.

According to the City Plan, Waco Comprehensive Plan 2040, which was adopted by Waco City Council in September 2016, the city has a Metropolitan Area Master Thoroughfare Plan with the goal of helping local, regional and state transportation agencies accommodate anticipated growth in McLennan County. According to the document, one of the city’s main goals is to ensure public safety for all roadway users.

One way roads could be safer near Baylor is by having a center turn lane on S. University Parks Drive. It is not uncommon to see students swerve around other cars waiting to turn left, which could be dangerous to bikes, pedestrians and other cars. You will also often see cars stacked up in traffic as a vehicle waits to turn left, causing delays and dangerous situations for drivers.

Many students also don’t have a car, so the excess of students crossing the streets around Baylor is an increased danger drivers need to be aware of. Look at UParks or La Salle long enough, and eventually you’ll see a student sprint across traffic – sometimes a little too close for comfort.

Studies have shown that when college students go back to school, car accidents in college towns increase. Let’s face it: College students are not the most responsible people in the world. We are easily distracted – whether talking to friends in the car, singing and dancing to Bruno Mars or The Jonas Brothers or trying to cram for a test while driving, sometimes the road is not our main focus. Not to mention, a 2013 study found that 80 percent of college students text while driving (That is ridiculous, y’all. Don’t text and drive. But that is another editorial for another time). Not to mention drinking and driving is increased in areas surrounding campuses (Come on, guys, we know better. It’s one thing to drink the punch; it’s another to get behind the wheel. But again, another editorial for another time).

We aren’t the only ones that want Waco to be more pedestrian friendly; Waco Walks is a pedestrian advocacy group with more than 900 followers on Facebook. The group meets at least monthly and works with the city to make Waco safer for pedestrians. According to its Facebook page, the group has helped with the historic Elm Avenue connectivity improvements project and the Eleventh and Twelfth Streets and Gurney Lane safety enhancement project. The group has also advocated improving the I-35 underpass at Fourth and Fifth Streets by adding lights under the underpass. The group hosts community walks in hopes that the more people are out walking around town, the more the city will keep pedestrians in mind when building and renovating.

For the safety of Baylor students, all Waco residents and drivers, measures to increase pedestrian safety need to be a priority, and a great place to start would be adding a center turn lane on South University Parks Drive.