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Danger in the Dark

by Anna Johnson,
  • Sophomore Alex Trice receives help from friends and emergency officials at the Williamson Avenue and College Avenue crosswalk Wednesday evening. Photo by Lindsay Fendt.

Last Wednesday, Elon University sophomore Alex Trice, who is a multimedia editor for The Pendulum, was struck by a white Nissan Sentra while crossing the North Williamson Avenue and West College Avenue crosswalk. According to Elon Police records, this is the fifth accident involving a pedestrian or bicyclist this calendar year and the second time this year an accident has occurred at the Williamson Avenue crosswalk.

Trice was taken to Alamance Regional Medical Center and suffered minor injuries to the left side of her body.

Elon senior Catherine Melendez was driving the vehicle when the car struck Trice. Melendez said she was driving below the speed limit and could see no one at the crosswalk because of low visibility and the heavy rainfall.

?"I had absolutely no idea anyone was there," Melendez said. "I wasn't speeding. I didn't see anyone. My boyfriend didn't see anyone. There was no light. It was raining. I would have stopped."

Trice was released from the hospital later in the evening. But other pedestrians and cyclists have been less fortunate. Last year, Elon chemistry professor Eugene Gooch died after being struck by a motorist while riding his bicycle on University Drive.

Ken Mullen, chair of Elon's safety committee, said once a semester the safety committee, made up of students and professors, walks around campus making recommendations to improve campus safety. Mullen said in recent years sidewalks, bicycle lanes and crosswalks have not been cited as an issue.

"Usually, tree limbs need to be cut," Mullen said. "Or we need a light there. Usually what happens is, once we get the official list and if (the projects) involve the town, we talk to the town planner."

He said if the road is state owned, the North Carolina Department of Transportation has to be contacted and the plans have to be approved. But if the town is solely involved, the town often works with the university to meet the recommendations.

Mullen said he was happy with the current crosswalks and with the number of crosswalks around campus. But he did say he plans to look at the parking spaces near the Williamson Avenue crosswalk to see if they are prohibiting drivers from seeing pedestrians trying to cross.
"Everyone has to be very alert," Mullen said. "We have to change our mindset when we are behind the wheel."

Chuck Gantos, director of campus safety and police, said he would also like the parking at Williamson Avenue to be addressed.

"There are some crosswalks that are excellent," Gantos said. "And there are some that need improvement. Our problem on Williamson Avenue is parking. The parking spaces are so close together that it makes walking across difficult. I would like to see some of those parking spaces go away."

Jerry Tolley, town of Elon mayor and director of Elon Society for Elon University, said there have been no citizens who have approached the Elon Board of Aldermen at a meeting or to him personally about pedestrian and bicycle safety around Elon.

Tolley spoke to Mike Dula, town manager, who is going to get in touch with the North Carolina Department of Transportation about possibly installing a stop light at the intersection. Tolley said citizens have to let the Board of Aldermen know about pedestrian and bicyclist safety concerns in order for proper steps to be taken. He also said the town is working toward being more pedestrian friendly by following the Elon Bicycle, Pedestrian and Lighting Plan.

The plan calls for the town to "have a pedestrian, bicycle and lighting system that will tie major residential areas together, providing students and residents safe and well-lit access from residential areas to campus academic and recreational facilities and the downtown," by 2030.
"Like a lot of municipalities, we have been hit hard by the recession," Tolley said. "There is not a lot of extra money around for these projects."

He said federal stimulus money is providing a means to phase in different sidewalk projects including a recent decision to add sidewalk spanning along South Oak Avenue from East Trollinger Avenue to Truitt Drive. Tolley also said the town is looking to put sidewalks along East Haggard Avenue so students living in off-campus apartments will have a safer way of getting to the university.

Tolley said regardless of improvements, pedestrians and drivers must be careful and alert.
Gantos said while lighting is often an issue brought up, more lights are not always the solution. He said in some circumstances the type of lighting needs to be changed. He stressed that sometimes the angle, color or placement of the lights can make the difference.

"Take (last Wednesday) night for example," Gantos said. "It was raining and visibility was very limited. The lights on the road cause a glare and it can be worse than not having any light at all. It is as if your headlights are not working."

Gantos said he sees lots of students with their hoods pulled up, talking on their cell phones and not looking both ways when crossing the crosswalks.

"Exercise good judgment," Gantos said. "You may have the right of way but that is not going to help you if you step out in front of a car. You have to exercise good safety. It's the same thing you learned in elementary school — look both ways and make sure the driver sees you before you cross. If you do that, we'll all be a lot safer."

Since 2001 there have been a total of 15 accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists in the Town of Elon.

     *Reporter's note: Alex Trice is a multimedia editor at The Pendulum