The Daily Campus is very happy when we’re able to wholeheartedly praise the University of Connecticut for anything. Well, almost wholeheartedly.
Hillside Road between Jim Calhoun Way and Glenbrook Road has been cleared of most car traffic besides buses, and emergency and service vehicles. The administration aims to ultimately transform Hillside into the kind of road Fairfield Way has become – a formerly car-dominated avenue now prioritizing public space, pedestrians and bicycle traffic.
Community support of this decision is important. According to Mike Enright, deputy spokesperson for communications, public reaction is a key variable which the university will use to determine the continuity or cessation of this program. For this reason, we all have the opportunity through advocacy, as well as simply using, inhabiting and enjoying the new Hillside, to make the university understand that we want a walkable campus with ample public space where vehicles are not prioritized.
Last year, a UConn graduate student was killed by a car while crossing the crosswalk on South Eagleville Road and Westwood road, illustrating their very real threat to public safety. Everywhere, cars are deeply polluting, lowering air quality locally and contributing significantly to climate change globally through carbon-intensive production and supply chains. Cars are large relative to their passengers, clogging transportation routes which could allow for the free flow of bicycles and pedestrians alongside space-efficient public transport. Finally, cars are just very expensive, so on paper, removing them contributes to equity regarding income and wealth level within any population. For these reasons, converting car roads into walkable public space promises a more safe, sustainable, convenient and affordable campus.
However, within the context of faults in equity and access in measurements beyond just transportation, informed infrastructure changes can neglect key groups. For example, the Student Union previously held important disability parking spaces which provided better access to that building—a central location on campus now closed to student drivers. While the university does provide students with disabilities the Accessible Van Service, commuter students who are disabled could be made to travel much farther with this change or need to redesign their schedule, and with every service for disabled students there are always outstanding accessibility concerns such as registry with the Center for Students with Disabilities and the department’s pre-qualification of each applicant.
Further, in a town experiencing the global housing crisis the same as any other, diminishing the access of vehicles cannot have transformative impacts on the quality of life here. While the administration oversees cost of living increases on campus and simultaneously attempts to control the surrounding housing supply, initiatives to reform local infrastructure are restricted to the population well-off enough to live here. To make UConn meaningfully accessible the university needs to invest far more in subsidizing affordable housing and tuition so that everyone has a chance to study here regardless of income or wealth.
The Daily Campus hopes this pilot program can be extended, that more traffic ways on campus may be expanded to greater pedestrian traffic, but most importantly that the university does not compromise on accessibility—regarding one’s ability to move, their ability to pay or any other means—while building the pedestrian friendly, multi-modal transport campus we all deserve.