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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Univ. to improve crosswalk safety, collaborating with Waltham

Published: February 14, 2014
Section: News, Top Stories

Ellen de Graffenreid, senior vice president for communications, assures the community that Brandeis has commenced multi-faceted efforts to improve safety conditions surrounding the crosswalk on South Street. In the wake of a car accident that sent three student pedestrians to the hospital last week, de Graffenreid assures that Brandeis is cooperating with the city of Waltham to make some major changes.

“We are really concerned about this,” de Graffenreid said in an interview with The Hoot on Tuesday. “Everyone needs to be responsible for their own safety, but we realize there are other factors that are out of people’s control.”

De Graffenreid reported that as South Street is regulated by the city of Waltham, ongoing safety efforts are always a collaborative effort. The Waltham police have already responded by implementing a constant cruiser presence around the crosswalk, and police officers have pulled over many drivers who are speeding or not respecting crosswalk rules.

“Waltham has been great about having police officers out there regulating people’s speed; I think it is very positive,” said de Graffenreid, who reported that she sees drivers cruise too quickly down South Street on a daily basis.

As for the crosswalk itself, “Any physical alterations that we would have made to the crosswalk have to be approved by the city,” said de Graffenreid. She reported that Ed Callahan, director of public safety, has met with the Waltham Traffic Commissioner to discuss concerns.

The problem of South Street safety is tri-fold. First, there are the physical factors on South Street, namely its hilly nature and the presence of other crosswalks and traffic. Second, there is driver behavior, including speeding and not stopping for students.

“[It’s also about] what drivers do when they see the lights at the crosswalk. Apparently some people think it’s a yellow light, and they speed up,” said de Graffenreid.

The third factor is pedestrian behavior, such as students not pressing the yellow button, darting into traffic or wearing headphones and not remaining aware of the environment around them.

“We have to work on all of them,” de Graffenreid said of these multiple problems.

Brandeis is considering implementing a passive system, where students would not need to press a button to light up the crosswalk; instead, it would be motion-sensitive. The university may also use LED reflectors in the roadway to improve the lighting at the dim crosswalk.

De Graffenreid is aware of the issue surrounding motion sensors, as she understands it would prove problematic for the orthodox population at Brandeis. If implemented, Brandeis orthodox students on Shabbat would have to use the bridge leading to Gosman to cross South Street instead of the crosswalk.

De Graffenreid reported that many of these proposed changes have technical challenges that need to be overcome.

“We are driving to try and get those changes made as quickly as we possibly can. We just got to keep reminding everyone, drivers and pedestrians, just to be really careful.”

She also stated that “President Lawrence is personally involved in this issue,” as she reported Lawrence walks to campus every day, using this problematic crosswalk, from his residence above the Watch Factory in Waltham.

As these changes are considered, de Graffenreid also reported that all students involved in the accident last week were released from the hospital. She was unable to give names or more information due to privacy constraints.