City Must Improve Traffic Safety

As the snow and ice that has covered city streets and sidewalks this winter begins to melt away and Oberlin experiences its first real doses of warmth in 2018, it’s a sure bet that bicycles will soon begin clogging those same areas, much to the chagrin of drivers.

For many, the thought of getting on a bike again after a long winter is delightful. But after the deaths of Oberlin resident Kyle Gutierrez, 22, last week and Jason Baird, 26, last semester, the Editorial Board is gravely concerned about pedestrian safety in the coming warmer months. Though those two incidents ended in tragedy, near-misses with pedestrians and vehicles are a frequent sight, occurring all over Oberlin.

Every morning, droves of students cross West Lorain Street in transit between Wilder Bowl and the Science Center, evoking the ire of drivers who know that, officially, the path has not been designated as a crosswalk. Cars and even eighteen-wheelers speed down South Main Street, often ignoring people waiting to enter the pedestrian crossing between Blue Rooster and Firelands Association for the Visual Arts and frightening those that dare to try. Student cyclists who ride down Main Street instead of the sidewalk, as they are meant to, risk being hit by any one of the litany of parked cars in the downtown area as it pulls out of a parking space.

These specific areas represent part of a much larger problem of pedestrian safety in Oberlin that is not an easy one to solve. We are doubtful that student bicyclists will lose their penchant for riding without helmets any time soon, and aggressive drivers are, unfortunately, all too common. Furthermore, Ohio law states that “pedestrians must yield the right-of-way to vehicles … when crossing outside of a marked crosswalk or an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.”

Because two state routes run through Oberlin, adding crosswalks and other pedestrian safety features along major roadways is not so simple. City Council previously attempted to designate the segment of Lorain Street between Park and Pleasant Streets as a school zone to circumvent laws prohibiting installment of crosswalks on state roads. This would have allowed for a formal crosswalk to be installed between Wilder Bowl and the Science Center, but the effort was unsuccessful.

Regardless of urban planning limitations and the tendencies of students, cyclists, and drivers, enough is enough. An article from The Chronicle-Telegram noted that Lt. Mike McCloskey of the Oberlin Police Department mentioned that the area of Main Street where Gutierrez was killed is poorly-lit, as if such a detail were a mere afterthought. Similarly, some might argue that Oberlin’s compliance with pedestrian safety and urban planning regulations is sufficient, and that such accidents can’t be avoided if pedestrians are careless in moving through town.

Those cannot be our excuses. Safety can be improved, and we believe that whatever measures necessary should be taken to do so. If poorly-lit areas prove unsafe, lighting should be installed. If crosswalks are lacking in places where students and town residents frequently cross roadways, they should be added.

Thankfully, City Council has and will continue to make improvements to pedestrian safety in Oberlin. According to City Council President Bryan Burgess, this summer, for example, the pedestrian crossing next to Blue Rooster will be upgraded with warning lights and driveways from Tappan Square onto Professor Street will be removed to discourage illegal crossings between the square and campus buildings. In past years, sharrows — signals painted on the roadway to indicate that bikes and cars must share the space — have been added to numerous streets throughout town. Further, improvements that have been made for bike riders on sections of Professor Street will be expanded, and the city will continue to connect unlinked segments of sidewalks.

The Editorial Board is optimistic that these efforts will be successful, but we feel that there are other improvements that would have an impact. The corners of the intersection of Lorain and Professor Streets could benefit greatly from additions of auditory and lighted walk signals similar to those that appear at the corners of College and Main Streets. Additionally, Main Street must be made safer for cyclists beyond existing sharrows; currently, the prospect of riding bicycles there is nightmarish, regardless of whether drivers are legally obligated to share the road. Finally, lighting should be assessed across the city and improved where necessary, especially along state routes with high speed limits.

We also feel strongly that Oberlin should conduct the necessary traffic study to designate the crossing between the Science Center and Wilder as an educational zone, allowing a crosswalk to be installed there.

For that to happen, collaboration between state and municipal interests will be necessary. We call on our elected officials — State Senator Gayle Manning, State Representative Dan Ramos, and Lorain County Commissioners Ted Kalo, Lori Kokoski, and Tom Williams — to collaborate with City Council to help make these changes happen. While we recognize the important precedence of state regulations, the law must adapt to the habits of the citizens that governments serve.

As a student publication, we also understand that many may feel that the instigators of dangers to pedestrians are the pedestrians themselves, specifically students. While student influence in city governance is often controversial due to our transience, this is not such a case — we have a vested interest in improving safety for pedestrians and cyclists both on campus and in town, and such changes will be crucial for future generations of students.

We also realize that the ideas outlined here cannot and should not be all that is proposed. For this reason, we call on City Council to hold forums on pedestrian safety and solicit ideas and complaints from all members of our community in the hopes of making us all safer.

If our community puts in genuine effort, pedestrian safety will improve, and Oberlin will be better for it. When our friends, family, and coworkers leave the house, office, or classroom, we all want to be certain that they are safe, and we should do everything we can to ensure that. The loss of any friend or loved one is unthinkable, and even more so when that loss could have been avoided. For the sake of the safety of Oberlin — and in memory of Kyle Gutierrez and Jason Baird — we must take all measures necessary to ensure that this never happens again.