The streets around the Marshall University campus long have been a hazardous area for both drivers and pedestrians. Drivers often travel faster than is safe, and students often cross the streets in hazardous ways and places.
Two collisions between vehicles and pedestrians in recent weeks brought that point home in tragic ways. A professor was injured when he was struck while crossing the intersection of Hal Greer Boulevard and 3rd Avenue. A few days later, a student was struck and killed on 3rd Avenue.
As explained Sunday in an article in The Herald-Dispatch by reporter Courtney Hessler, Marshall students and faculty know there is a problem. Zack Ihnat and Harrison Randolph, engineering students at Marshall, told Hessler they spend a good portion of their time at the school’s transportation lab, which overlooks 3rd Avenue. They said it was devastating to hear of the pedestrian incidents.
James Bryce, assistant professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at Marshall and the assistant director of the Appalachian Transportation Institute, arrived at Marshall in 2018 from the District of Columbia, where he said he had a habit of walking. He said he nearly has been hit a few times at the intersection of Hal Greer Boulevard and 3rd Avenue by vehicles turning onto Hal Greer.
“They really have no indication that they’re required to yield to pedestrians,” he said. “I can barely cross that road without having a panic attack. It’s sad that we have a legal way to cross, and yet it seems as though drivers are not encouraged at all to yield to pedestrians.”
Things are in the works, but they will take time. On Friday, Jimmy Wriston, commissioner of highways for the West Virginia Department of Transportation, said in a letter to Huntington Mayor Steve Williams that the Division of Highways will conduct a road safety assessment for the campus in the spring.
It must be remembered that 3rd Avenue, 5th Avenue, Hal Greer Boulevard and 20th Street were designed by highway engineers to accomplish a single objective: move large amounts of traffic through the area as quickly as possible.
That was before Marshall grew to the size it is now in terms of both acreage and enrollment. Student housing, student services, parking and classrooms no longer are confined to the small area bounded by those streets.
The human element is the major component in correcting this problem. Whatever solutions that are proposed must be realistic. People don’t always respond in ways planners and highway engineers desire or expect.
For the time being, it’s up to students and other pedestrians to be watchful and careful as they cross the street. Intoxicated, distracted and careless drivers always will be among us. No amount of re-engineering streets can negate that fact.
Drivers, too, must be aware that pedestrians make mistakes. Vehicle operators must prepare for that possibility.
As distasteful as it will be to many people, an increased law enforcement presence is necessary. People speed. Pedestrians jaywalk. Drivers don’t yield to pedestrians. They run lights. Deterrence of some sort is necessary.
This problem was a long time in the making. It is the result of many changes that occurred over decades. Finding a solution won’t be easy, and it will take time and changes in behavior.