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Committee to review campus pedestrian safety

Cars still zoom through the intersection of Hope and Thayer streets, where Avi Schaefer '13 was killed less than two weeks ago — a reminder of the challenges that remain in ensuring pedestrian safety on College Hill.

Two recent incidents have "raised sensitivity and awareness about pedestrian safety on campus," said Russell Carey, senior vice president for Corporation affairs and governance, at the faculty meeting on Monday.

The first, a Feb. 12 drunken driving accident, left Schaefer dead and Marika Baltscheffsky '13 injured. A hit-and-run involving Erinn Phelan '09 and Alma Guerrero '09 MD'13 on Feb. 21 in New York City was the second accident involving members of the Brown community.

In light of these events, Carey announced the creation of a pedestrian safety review committee, to be chaired by Carey and Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Margaret Klawunn, at Tuesday's faculty meeting. The effectiveness of existing signs and signals at pedestrian crossings, ways to improve education and awareness efforts regarding pedestrian safety and coordinating enforcement with Providence Police will be among the issues under the committee's purview, Carey said.

The committee will build on recommendations made by a transportation study conducted as a part of the 2006 Brown University Institutional Master Plan. The study addressed parking as well as vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian traffic.

A direct result of the study was the Walk, which connects Pembroke campus and Lincoln Field. Additional efforts have been made to synchronize traffic lights on Angell and Waterman streets along the Walk, Carey said.

But pedestrian deaths on College Hill are extremely rare. A recent review of traffic safety records over the past three years found that most accidents reported to the Department of Public Safety were low-speed and none resulted in serious injuries, Carey said.

Another component of pedestrian safety — drunken driving — continues to be addressed by the Providence Police, said Lt. John Ryan, PPD commander for Dist. 9. A key part of this effort is Operation Blue RIPTIDE, a federally funded initiative that deploys additional officers with special certification to spot drunken drivers. Individuals arrested for drunk driving have been a mix of students and Providence locals, Ryan said.

"This is the only fatality I've had in a couple of years," Ryan said of Schaefer's death, adding that drunken driving is still a serious problem in Providence.

The General Assembly has also made strides to address drunken driving.

"The Assembly's passed some important legislation — like mandatory license suspensions for people who refuse breathalyzers," Rep. David Segal, D-Dist. 2, wrote in an e-mail to The Herald.

Segal also mentioned efforts to mitigate the rush that happens when bars and clubs close, and wrote that the Providence City Council continues to work on "traffic calming."

The College Hill Neighborhood Association also "supports precautions against drunk driving," including caps on liquor licenses granted to Thayer St. businesses, said Allison Spooner, president of the association.

While serious accidents on College Hill are uncommon, problem areas like the intersection of Olney Street and North Main Street have been cited as dangerous for pedestrians, Spooner said.

The intersection of Hope and Thayer streets, where Schaefer died, is also a problem spot, according to former and current residents.

The intersection, which provides scant signage and limited visibility for drivers, is "extraordinarily difficult," said Adjunct Lecturer in Theatre Arts and Performance Studies Andy Hertz '04, whose friends witnessed numerous accidents while living at the intersection.

"It's a weird intersection," said Otis Warren, who has lived in the neighborhood for six months. "For some reason, nobody stops — it's just the way it's set up."


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