Student death calls for reflection on pedestrian safety

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Pedestrian safety on campus is a concern of a number of students and faculty members following the recent accident in which graduate student Nhuong Nguyen was hit. A number of roads surrounding campus are poorly lit and have low visibility at night, a dangerous combination. Illustration by Kaitlyn Tran/The Daily Campus.

The Daily Campus sends our best wishes to every member of the University of Connecticut community affected by the death of PhD student Nhuong Nguyen, who died of medical complications last Tuesday night after being hit by a car while crossing a crosswalk at the intersection of Eastwood and South Eagleville Road. We hope to contribute to a discussion about transportation justice and preventing similar harm going forward.  

Although the investigation is still ongoing into this specific accident and its cause is unclear, it isn’t enough for us to acknowledge the loss and tragedy of this death. We should reflect on the state of transportation safety everywhere on campus and surrounding areas to ensure this never happens again. Automobile fatalities aren’t random or facts of life — they’re caused by transportation infrastructure built for the supremacy of cars, where traffic conflicts are frequent and walking is unsafe. 

Cars are one of the most dangerous modes of transportation. They weigh thousands of pounds and frequently collide with each other and pedestrians, killing thousands every day globally and tens of thousands every year in the United States alone. In 2021, car accidents have increased by 16% in Connecticut, having already killed 283 people as of Nov. 2. If we aren’t seriously committed to pedestrian safety, we’re complicit in these human costs. 

This intersection of Eastwood and South Eagleville Road is an example of many dangers and deficiencies in transportation infrastructure. The crosswalk has no lighting for pedestrians, making them exceptionally hard for drivers to see during the night. There is only one stop sign against the terminal street, so in the event that pedestrians go unnoticed, there’s nothing to slow down cars driving straight through the intersection. Further, the only sidewalk is on the opposite side of the street to nearby houses, forcing pedestrians to walk alongside South Eagleville Road and increasing the odds of an accident. 

These join many improvements which the town of Mansfield and the UConn administration could accommodate at this intersection and others to slow automobile traffic and make life safer for pedestrians, some of which can already be seen around campus.  

Some crosswalks on North Eagleville Road have flashing yellow lights linked to pedestrian buttons to indicate crossing, making clearer the need for oncoming traffic to slow and then stop. Roundabouts, such as the one installed this year outside of North Garage, lower driver speed and increase caution around other cars and pedestrians alike. Medians like the one on North Eagleville Road separate oncoming traffic in both directions and narrow the street, making drivers slower and more cautious, decreasing harm in the event of conflicts. This one, like the median at the intersection of Storrs and Bolton Road, also gives a safe midway-crossing point for pedestrians. Finally, unlike the intersection of Eastwood and South Eagleville Road, other crosswalks around Mansfield are lit during the evening.  

We can’t possibly cover every infrastructure improvements that would increase pedestrian safety around town. More speed bumps would dramatically decrease car speeds and danger in the event of conflicts. Protected bicycle lanes both slow car traffic by narrowing streets and incentivize cycling, which is much safer than driving. Designs which elevate intersections above the surrounding road impact driver psychology, making the intersection into a fundamentally pedestrian-controlled space in which cars are guests, rather than the other way around. All of these improvements lead drivers to be more aware, and allow pedestrians to enjoy greater safety while walking.  

These changes cost money and time to implement, and we’re probably all familiar with the nuisance of construction at UConn. Further, pedestrian-safe infrastructure often slows automobile traffic, making the experience of driving less desirable for commuters and visitors, potentially decreasing traffic to our town and school. These are common local administrative concerns when designing with pedestrian safety in mind. 

But we shouldn’t throw our hands up at such factors. They should inform our advocacy for the human right of safe travel, and for walkable urban areas independent from expensive, environmentally harmful and fatal automobile traffic. Such areas exist all around the world. Mansfield can be like this too if we collectively believe these investments are justified by the sanctity of human life. 

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