September 26, 2011

Pedestrian, bike safety issues are focus of efforts

In concert with Baltimore City agencies, Johns Hopkins has been working hard to further enhance pedestrian and bicycle safety around the Homewood campus.

The measures developed and being studied will require a combination of traffic enforcement, engineering solutions and safety education to create behavioral changes and awareness among students, faculty and staff.

Several serious accidents over the past several years involved undergraduates being struck by cars. Nathan Krasnopoler, a 20-year-old student in the Whiting School of Engineering, died this summer from the severe injuries he received in February, when he was struck by a car while bicycling on University Parkway near the campus.

Sarah B. Steinberg, vice provost for student affairs, and Daniel Ennis, senior vice president for finance and administration, said that Krasnopoler’s traffic death underscored the urgent need to address this issue.

“We want to help create a walkable and safer community for everyone,” Steinberg said.

The university worked in the spring with the Baltimore Police Department to arrange for traffic checkpoints and enhanced traffic law enforcement in the area. Those efforts focused on late-night and early-morning weekend hours. Patrols and monitoring will continue in Charles Village on weekend nights this fall, with the aim of keeping speeds down, citing drivers who commit moving violations and removing intoxicated drivers from the roads.

At the university’s behest, Baltimore Police are also instituting regular daytime traffic enforcement efforts at hours when many students and other pedestrians are crossing busy streets.

Additionally, Johns Hopkins has been a major player in the ongoing renovation of Charles Street, specifically the stretch of Charles Street that runs roughly the full length of the Homewood campus. The three-year $25 million endeavor will serve many goals, primarily to enhance pedestrian safety. Johns Hopkins is contributing significantly to the city’s budget for the project.

At the request of university administration, the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Bloomberg School of Public Health conducted a comprehensive study of other intersections and major roads around Homewood. The center recommends additional crosswalks, more speed limit signs, better-synchronized traffic lights and walk signs, and other measures.

The center’s study noted that San Martin Drive, the winding roadway on the west side of campus, has poor sightlines and is too narrow to accommodate two lanes of traffic plus bicycles, runners and pedestrians. The university is pursuing traffic-calming approaches, traffic-flow design elements and pedestrian-oriented improvements, but must do so in concert with the community and subject to municipal requirements.

Andrea Gielen, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy, said that the center conducted a series of interviews this summer with a Homewood faculty and student focus group. She said the results were somewhat eye-opening.

“It might seem obvious, but the people here at Johns Hopkins come from all parts of the country and all different environments, so we’re dealing with a group of people with different pedestrian behaviors,” she said. “That has to be taken into account.”

Gielen said that the center’s work will contribute to safety efforts at Johns Hopkins and elsewhere. “Somewhat surprisingly, there is not much information out there about pedestrian and bike safety around college campuses. The issue hasn’t received the level of attention it deserves. It’s worth looking at, and we hope to share our findings with other urban universities.”

The university also hired traffic engineers to study the intersection of St. Paul and 33rd streets. The engineers’ report detailed a number of options for improving safety at that sometimes dangerous and confusing intersection, reinforcing the Center for Injury Research and Policy’s findings. The university and the community have advocated action by the city and state.

Nighttime lighting and visibility on and around campus have been significantly improved. Over the past several months, Johns Hopkins and Baltimore City have trimmed more than 200 trees. The university has spent more than $300,000 to upgrade on-campus lighting, and the city has installed new street lamps along Charles Street from 29th Street to Art Museum Drive, the first phase of an effort that eventually will continue up to University Parkway.

Steinberg said that students, faculty and staff are encouraged to walk to and from campus but should use “basic street smarts.” Homewood Security and the Office of Student Affairs, she said, have made a point to educate students on safety issues.

“There is a lot of traffic in this area, and we want drivers, pedestrians and cyclists to be educated and aware,” she said. “The solutions will result from engineering, enforcement and education.”

Steinberg and Ennis said that the Johns Hopkins community will continue to be updated with the university’s efforts to improve pedestrian and bike safety.