Modernized educational campaign part of safety initiative

Modernized educational campaign part of safety initiative

URBANA – Looking both ways before you cross the street is the safe thing to do. So you've been told since you were 5.

Now, officials are trying to make it the hip thing to do. The University of Illinois and the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District are looking at getting students' attention in ways that don't make them sound like their mothers.

"The whole idea is not to have it be preachy," MTD assistant director Tom Costello said.

Local bands are participating in a safety campaign aimed at UI students, called liveUP. Students can download a podcast with music and a safety message from the campaign's Web site,, and read safety tips on the site.

The campaign is just one of the measures taken by the UI, MTD, police and the cities to make the campus safer for pedestrians. The groups began looking closely at safety in the fall, after UI freshman Sarah Channick was struck and killed by a bus at the intersection of Sixth and Chalmers streets.

So far, safety improvements include rerouting buses, putting stop signs at some intersections, adding audible signals and strobes to buses, increasing education efforts aimed at students and stepping up enforcement of traffic laws.

Spreading the Message

For years, the UI has told students how to stay safe, including not wearing headphones. The safety tips in a 1992 safety brochure included this one: "When walking ... don't wear stereo headphones. They prevent you from hearing what's around you."

"It's always been a priority for us," said Rhonda Kirts, associate dean of students.

But students don't always get the message.

Just a week ago, a jogger who had a hood up and was listening to headphones was hit by a car at the intersection of Goodwin and Springfield avenues. UI police Lt. Skip Frost said the man, who was not seriously injured, stepped into the path of a northbound car as the light for northbound traffic turned yellow. He was struck by the car's outside mirror.

Students first hear about safety during summer registration, but police are working with housing and the Greek system to present information throughout the year.

"We're trying to impose on people the idea that your safety is your responsibility," Frost said. "I think we have made some strides."

But he is concerned when he hears students say they haven't changed their behavior and are just more careful now in checking for police officers first.

"That's kind of a pervasive attitude, unfortunately," Frost said.

The police, the dean of students office and the housing division are reworking their safety presentations to make them more entertaining. Plans include updating a safety video to show examples of safe and unsafe behavior in a fun way and making it available on the Internet and on a DVD that could be used by various groups, Kirts said.

The liveUP safety campaign will feature podcasts from eight local bands through the course of the semester.

The Krannert Center for the Performing Arts is one of the sponsors of the campaign and will work with performers to get some of them involved as well. And the Web site will feature occasional audio from live local performances.

"We think that is something that the audience we're trying to attract is interested in," Costello said.

Nick Klitzing, a political science student and student trustee for the Urbana campus, said it is too soon to tell if students will respond to the campaign, but he thinks it has potential.

"It's very difficult to get students to think about (safety) when they are so busy with classes and extracurricular activities, and they think, 'It's not going to happen to me. Even if it happens to other people like me, it's not going to happen to me,'" Klitzing said.

He said connecting with students through iPods and music "engages them a lot more. It should be much more effective."

Costello said the Web site is getting about 70 hits a day.

Larry Gates of Champaign, a member of Lorenzo Goetz, the band currently featured on the safety campaign's Web site, said he jumped at the opportunity to promote his band while contributing to an issue that is important to him as a local resident.

"It's real easy for that kind of thing to come off as kind of lame or preachy or motherly," he said of safety education.

But he said the approach taken by the liveUP campaign presents the information in "somewhat of a fashionable manner.

"Some of the people who would turn up their nose or scoff at traffic safety information might pay attention, and it works well for us because it gives us exposure to people who haven't heard us," he said.

The band will play music on an MTD bus Friday before the release party for its new CD, and WPGU radio will distribute safety information at bus stops.

More Work to do

Along with safety education, pedestrians and drivers are getting tickets for traffic violations.

Frost said campus police are on the lookout for violations such as failure of a driver to yield to a pedestrian, no-turn-on-red violations, running red lights, drunk driving, intoxicated pedestrians, disregarding a "don't walk" signal and stepping out in front of oncoming traffic.

Between Oct. 8 and Jan. 3, campus police issued 739 warnings to drivers for moving violations, 203 warnings for equipment violations and wrote 176 tickets, Frost said.

During that time, they gave 417 warnings to pedestrians and wrote 24 tickets.

The city of Champaign has placed a digital sign displaying a car's speed around campus, and the UI police have a lighted sign displaying safety messages.

"We're trying to make people really think about it," Frost said. "Our approach is, if everybody would just show a little patience and a little courtesy, we could make such a difference in how safe this campus is for pedestrians and vehicles."

Meantime, civil engineering Professor Rahim Benekohal is identifying problem spots for pedestrians and drivers.

Benekohal is studying 25 crosswalks on campus and collecting information on the number of cars and pedestrians at each location, conflicts between the two and how they are caused.

Benekohal conducted surveys last fall of pedestrians and drivers, asking them what locations they thought were unsafe, where they had been in accidents or near-misses and what suggestions they had for improving safety.

He received almost 7,000 responses from pedestrians – from freshmen to faculty and staff who have been on campus for years – and almost 2,500 responses from drivers.

"It was beyond our expectations," he said.

The study also will include focus group meetings with students, bus drivers, police, staff, bicyclists, disabled persons, and other interested people, such as business and property owners.

Benekohal is categorizing information about problem areas, such as the time of day, locations and groups of people involved in accidents.

The study, which he hopes will be finished by June, will summarize his findings and make recommendations.

A consultant will use the study to help determine what kind of transportation is needed on campus and how to balance it with making the area pedestrian-friendly, said Pam Voitik, director of Campus Services, which includes Campus Parking, who also is part of a group concerned with campus transportation issues.

The UI and the cities are participating in the study, which will look at bus service, traffic patterns, parking and bicycle lanes, among other things. Voitik said it will help the UI update its campus parking master plan.

Parking and bicycle traffic also will be covered in the next phase of the Campus Area Transportation Study, she said. An intergovernmental agreement will prioritize recommendations from the last study that have not yet been put in place and specify other areas of focus.

"I think we've been pretty successful in working together and making changes for the better in the university district," Voitik said. "What we want to do is keep that moving forward."

Not so fast: Talks aren't over yet

   URBANA – The question of how fast cars should drive on campus could be revisited.

Last fall, the Champaign City Council rejected a proposal by University of Illinois officials to lower speed limits in the University District to 20 mph. Then, the Urbana City Council declined to consider it.

But Pam Voitik, director of UI Campus Services, which includes Campus Parking, and a member of a group studying campus transportation issues, said the UI would like the cities to reconsider the issue after changes are made this summer on Lincoln Avenue.

The street will be reduced from four lanes to three, including a turn lane, between Pennsylvania and Nevada, and workers will add signals at Nevada and Pennsylvania.

UI officials are concerned about the speed of traffic along the street because many students live east of Lincoln Avenue in sorority and fraternity houses and apartments, and they must cross Lincoln Avenue to get to classes.

Urbana Public Works Director Bill Gray said all three jurisdictions – the UI and the cities – should have the same speed limits.

"It's important to have consistency in the University District, so all three would have to collectively agree to a speed," he said.

Bruce Knight, planning director for the city of Champaign, said changes would need to be done "in the context of a larger set of recommendations." He noted the cities and the UI are developing an agreement to prioritize the safety recommendations that have not yet been put in place.

"My own feeling was that the primary purpose for reducing the speed limit is to send a message to drivers in the area," Knight said. "There may be other ways to send a message to drivers, and we should consider all those before locking in on a solution."

Voitik said lowering the speed limit won't significantly affect travel times, but "the probability that a pedestrian-vehicle accident will be fatal drops significantly when you reduce the speed from 30 mph to 20 mph."

Voitik quoted statistics from a 2004 Federal Highway Administration publication on pedestrian safety. It cites a study that found a pedestrian hit by a car going 40 mph had an 85 percent chance of being killed; one hit by a car going 30 mph had a 45 percent chance of dying; and a pedestrian hit by a car traveling 20 mph had a 5 percent chance of being killed.

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