Pedestrian bridge would make campus travel safer, convenient

By Steven Warrick

There has been a lot of building going on at the U in recent years, with more planned for the future. The U would do well to include in these plans one worthwhile addition to the campus: a pedestrian bridge across 500 South and South Campus Drive. Such a bridge would make sense for convenience, safety and allow a quicker evacuation of the campus in emergency situations.

Since the U moved to its current location in the late 1800s, building has gone on in spurts instead of a slow, constant expansion. One of these spurts took place in the 1930s, with the construction of the buildings that are now Kingsbury Hall, Gardner Hall and the Utah Museum of Natural History, among others. In the early 1950s, we had another building boom which gave us facilities such as the Union and OSH. In the late 1960s, the U experienced a huge growth spurt with the HPER complex, Marriott Library and the Social and Behavioral Science Building as well the Huntsman Center.

In the past decade or so, we have seen construction for the 2002 Winter Olympics as well as the Tanner Humanities Building.

Some of the recent or proposed construction appears to be very worthwhile, such as the update to the Marriott Library. But some construction projects, such as the proposed Universe Project, appear to make as much sense as the infamous $1.22 million redecoration, complete with a $35,000 “commode on legs,” of then-Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain’s office.

A pedestrian bridge would be a worthwhile construction project. Getting from the parking lot on Guardsman Way to the main campus has long been a real pain. The crossing lights for 500 South at both Guardsman Way by the VA Hospital and on South Campus Drive are very slow. Often, it seems that the wait for the lights is as long as the rest of the walk to class. As a result of this wait, a lot of people choose to ignore the lights altogether and just cross when it looks clear.

This brings up the second reason for a pedestrian bridge: safety. According to the U Police Department’s Web site, there have been 22 auto-pedestrian accidents on campus since 2004. The two streets in question have the potential to produce some grisly accidents. Because 500 South is six lanes wide, it takes longer for pedestrians to cross and it is harder for them to see an oncoming vehicle. Since the traffic on that road is usually traveling much faster than the traffic on campus, any injuries are likely to be much more severe. South Campus Drive is very busy and it has the added danger of TRAX trains for pedestrians to deal with.

Moving large numbers of pedestrians across two busy streets will create a bottleneck any time that portion of campus might need to be evacuated. Motorists and pedestrians will slow each other down tremendously. Last week’s evacuation of campus showed how an impediment to traffic flow that causes little inconvenience in normal situations can be crippling in an emergency. The restriction of Penrose Drive and closure of Federal Way means that almost all traffic heading west from upper campus is funneled through 100 South. What is normally a minor irritant caused hours of delay March 24.

Building a pedestrian bridge across 500 South and South Campus Drive would be convenient for those students who park at the parking lot on Guardsman Way. It would go a long way in preventing auto-pedestrian accidents on the two streets and would facilitate the evacuation of that side of campus. This is something that should be built before the various other building projects on the drawing boards, useful and otherwise.

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Steve Warrick