Timers aimed at improving safety

University officials hope changes to pedestrian crossings will improve safety nearly a year and a half after a car hit a student in front of the Marvin Center.

Earlier this month, most campus intersections were equipped with timers that tell pedestrians how many seconds they have to cross the street. They were installed by the city at the request of GW.

“We’re installing them all over the city,” said D.C. Department of Transportation spokesperson Bill Rice.

The timers came as a result of a recommendation made last year by a group comprised of University Police officers, students and city officials working to make the campus safer for pedestrians. The group also recommended that crosswalk markings be painted in front of Gelman Library and University Yard; those changes have yet to be implemented.

University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg asked UPD Chief Dolores Stafford to convene a group to discuss H Street safety in October 2003. The request came after a student, Jessica Burt, sustained minor injuries after being hit by a Lexus Sport Utility Vehicle on H Street in front of the Marvin Center in September 2003. Stafford’s group also looked at general pedestrian safety issues across campus. Pedestrians are involved in several car accidents on campus every year.

A total of 16 timers were installed around campus at the expense of the city, including timers at the intersection of 21st and H streets, near the spot of Burt’s accident.

“The goal of adding the timers to the crosswalks was to give people better information as to when the … lights are going to turn from red to green and green to red so that people will hopefully be less likely to get hit while crossing the street,” Stafford said.

A November 2003 study found that 38 people cross H Street between 21st and 22nd streets every minute. Between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. on the day of the study, 14,000 pedestrians were reported to have crossed the block.

Bernard Demczuk, GW’s assistant vice president of government relations for the District of Columbia, said the area on H Street in front of Gelman Library is one of the campus’ more dangerous areas. Parked cars and vendors are hazards for pedestrians crossing between the Academic Center and Gelman because they create “blind spots.”

GW is scheduled to meet with officials from the Department of Transportation this spring to talk about repainting crosswalks that have been worn away and painting a new crosswalk in front of Gelman Library. They have been unsuccessful in trying to persuade city officials to close the street to vehicles.

Stafford said there was interest in the community for the city to come in and perform a study on which “traffic calming measures” would be best for the area.

“They don’t do just one block.” Stafford said of the Department of Transportation studies. “They look at what making changes to that one block would do to all of the subsequent blocks around that block.”

Ivory Tower resident Rachel Coleman, a senior, said she thinks the crosswalk timers are making a difference.

“I like the new crosswalks because it allows me to see how much time I have left to cross the street,” Coleman said. “They allow me to be a smarter pedestrian.”

-Nathan Brill contributed to this report.

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