By Scott Tibbs, September 25, 2009
IDS columnist Zach Ammerman berates Indiana University for what he perceives to be a lack of safety on campus for pedestrians, blaming IU policy for the death of his friend. IU sophomore Peter Duong was killed when he crossed Fee Lane and was struck by an oncoming car. Duong's death has led to a great deal of discussion about safety on campus.
While I do not wish to place "blame" for this tragedy, it has been confirmed that Duong illegally crossed the street into the path of an oncoming car, which struck and killed him. Had Duong went to the intersection and waited for his turn to cross, the accident likely would not have taken place. A driver does not expect a pedestrian to step out into the road at places other than designated pedestrian crossing zones. When pedestrians step out from behind another vehicle such as a bus (which happens far too often) it leaves little time to react to stop or avoid the pedestrian.
This isn't to say that people behind the wheel are acting appropriately either. 11 years ago, I jokingly dubbed myself a "militant pedestrian" in a column for the IDS. Too often, drivers do not respect the right of way of pedestrians, even in a crosswalk when the "walk" signal is illuminated. I once had a driver screech "next time, look" at 10th and fee because I crossed the street when I had the signal. Several years ago, the traffic light was finally upgraded to allow separate signals for pedestrians crossing the street and drivers making a turn onto one of the streets. A few years ago, I was bumped (though not injured) by a car when I was crossing Kirkwood and Dunn, despite the fact that I had the right of way.
While there are some infrastructure improvements that can be made (including configuring the light at Woodlawn and 3rd Street to match 10th and Fee) the ultimate responsibility for safety lies with the people walking and driving through campus. Pedestrians should only cross at designated crosswalks and then only when they have the right of way. Fairly or not, an automobile will always "win" in a collision with a pedestrian, so pedestrians should be careful about their own safety. Drivers need to be aware of their surroundings, drive at a reasonable speed and yield to pedestrians rather than rushing through when they have the right of way. Bicyclists also need to obey traffic laws, such as not riding the wrong way on a one-way street.
Even if we could come up with the best possible infrastructure to allow pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists to share the road as safely as possible, there will still be accidents and injuries, and maybe even more fatalities, because we're dealing with human beings who will inevitably show poor judgment, whether it is a simple mistake or flagrant violations of traffic laws. The best traffic safety requires cooperation from everyone, whether they are on foot, on a bicycle or in an automobile. The only way to avoid more fatalities is for everyone to take responsibility for their own safety and obeying the law.