By Amanda Joerndt
President Jim Tressel has an initiative for a “Pedestrian First” university.
While many projects are underway at Youngstown State University to enhance the growing and modern trends within the Youngstown area, one initiative that may be overshadowed as a result is keeping YSU’s street scene at a “pedestrian first” outlook.
Various roads along campus, such as Wick and Lincoln avenues, were renovated in hopes of reducing traffic flow and making drivers aware of the pedestrian flow moving throughout campus.
With a $22 million infrastructure project underway including the Fifth Avenue corridor, funds were provided through a $10.8 million grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, or BUILD, program.
The SMART2 Network — which stands for Strategic & Sustainable, Medical & Manufacturing, Academic & Arts, Residential & Recreational, Technology & Training — will work to enhance the reduction of traffic lanes, create a boulevard and integrate crosswalk locations for safer foot travel on Fifth Avenue.
Youngstown State University’s President Jim Tressel advocates for student safety walking to and from classes by inventing “Penguin Crossing” crosswalk signs placed on Wick Avenue this semester.
The “Penguin Crossing” signs allow students to push a button to activate rapid flashing lights, alerting drivers of students crossing the street.
Tressel said incorporating the university mascot into the crosswalk signs was a way to encourage student safety across campus.
“I kind of came up with this crazy idea that, rather then just those stick figures crossing on the signs, how about if it was Penguins crossing because that’s what we have to be careful for is those Penguins. … So it’s been fun seeing those start to take shape,” Tressel said.
Although the signs were created for student safety measures, being a cautious pedestrian is just as important as being alert behind the wheel.
“Of course the students still have to be careful because you want to be a defensive walker just like a defensive driver,” Tressel said. “I think as time goes by, it’ll become the norm everywhere on campus rather than just some streets.”
According to Tressel, when unfortunate emergency situations arise, safety forces on campus spring into action with the correct rehearsal and training necessary.
“We’re very fortunate with our safety forces and police forces. … I’ve seen some now even on bicycles occasionally, and we’re very fortunate for not only YSU safety groups, but also the city safety groups,” Tressel said. “We help one another when there’s something that happens on one of the streets within the campus.”
Chuck Shasho, deputy director of the Public Works Department in Youngstown, partnered with YSU to install the crosswalk infrastructure on Wick Avenue and said the parties worked together to pick designated areas where people will most likely cross.
“YSU and the city of Youngstown partnered on this project a few years ago, and part of the project was to install a couple of crosswalks where people normally cross because people tend to just wander across Wick Avenue aimlessly,” Shasho said.
He said the push-buttons are solely dependant on whether the pedestrian activates the button to alert drivers of upcoming foot traffic.
“We have the hawk signal at the corner of Rayen Avenue and Hazel Street,” Shasho said. “That’s a little bit different in the sense that it’s actually more like a traffic signal, so it’s actually going to flash red.”
According to YSU Police Chief Shawn Varso, all of the police officers working for the university are “proactive out on their shift.”
“I’ve instructed my officers that if they see something that’s dangerous to pedestrian safety or danger to vehicle travel and that they can act on it, take whatever appropriate measures are needed to rectify the situation,” Varso said.
Varso said although vehicle accidents have occured, no pedestrian-vehicle incidents have been reported in recent years.
“There hasn’t really been any serious incidents involving a pedestrian and a motor vehicle,” Varso said. “We’ve had some serious accidents and that over the years, especially around Fifth Avenue crossing by the stadium and McDonald’s, but I can’t recall anything in recent memory that we’ve had serious accident wise.”
Tressel said his attention for future pedestrian and traffic safety will be centered on Rayen and Fifth avenues.
“I’m hoping as those get added, it’ll just become the norm,” Tressel said. “If it’s still going a little too quick for us and our nervousness about safety, if we do need to add a couple crosswalks or flashers, I think that’s something we’ll assess as we go.”
Taking Necessary Precautions to Enhance Pedestrian and Driving Safety
While the university is taking action to establish a foundation for student and drivers safety passing through campus, taking appropriate safety measures from students to reduce potential collisions plays a crucial role.
Danny O’Connell, director of support services at YSU, said utilizing the crosswalks on a daily basis can ensure safety for both parties of the traffic flow.
“When you’re in the crosswalk, by law [drivers] must stop and let the pedestrians go,” O’Connell said. “Hitting that light simply alerts people in both directions.”
According to O’Connell, being an active pedestrian when walking across the street can help resolve and prevent unnecessary accidents.
“As a student, you always have to be aware of your surroundings,” he said. “When I see someone crossing the street, looking at their phone with their headphones on, it concerns me.”
O’Connell said the Fifth Avenue project is “one of the best things to ever happen at YSU from a campus safety standpoint.”
“It’ll calm down the traffic on Fifth Avenue, we’ll have a boulevard, better crosswalks. Everything about the project enhances the university,” he said. “When you take on those types of challenges, you have to work through them.”
Kati Hartwig, the social media and digital marketing coordinator at YSU, said being active on YSU’s social media platforms informs students about taking accountable safety measures.
“I’ve encountered a couple situations where students aren’t so sure if they should be crossing the street and the driver’s not so sure if they should be stopping,” Hartwig said. “That’s kind of what started us prompting these little public service announcements on social media just to kind of get the word out.”
According to Tressel, the university’s goal for the next academic year is to promote pedestrian safety through the “Penguin Crossing” crosswalk placements.
“My goal is by the fall of 2020 when Fifth Avenue is done is to really have this place be second nature that it’s pedestrian first, drivers go slow, pedestrians be careful and just getting into that being the norm,” Tressel said.