Picture this: You’re walking back from the Student Recreation Center or any place in center campus back towards the North end. You decide that today is a particularly good day to utilize Hillside Road as your route to get back. After all, a large section of it was recently closed to promote an increase in foot traffic in the area. What could go wrong?
I’ve had these exact thoughts multiple times throughout the first few weeks of the semester, and every single time I’ve nearly gotten nailed by a bus. As appealing as the financial return of getting hit by a bus may seem, I happen to value the use of my four limbs and would be pretty upset if something were to happen to them.
This anecdote was a long-winded way to say that if the University of Connecticut is going to close a large portion of Hillside Road — the most valuable part of the street too, sandwiched in-between the Student Union and Gampel Pavilion — it should be fully closed. This middle ground of having buses on it makes absolutely no sense, as the goal of closing the section was to make it walking-friendly. When New York City did the same thing to Times Square in 2010, they didn’t make buses a special exception. If they did, then we’d be hearing a lot more about random people getting hit on a daily basis.
Walking paths are much less valuable when there’s the constant fear of getting hit by a bus, especially given how many pass through at any given moment. Similarly, Fairfield Way wouldn’t feel nearly as safe if there were constantly cars parading through it, as there were before the 1990s. If anything, the current situation makes the road more unsafe. Back when every vehicle could go on Hillside Road, everyone knew that it was a functioning road. Now, crossing the road, people aren’t looking for cars/buses in the way they used to, which increases their susceptibility to being hit once one does come around.
Another thing compounding this issue is the fact that college students aren’t always focusing. With phones and social media, people are constantly on their phones while walking. We can try to solve for that issue, but the more effective thing to do is adapting around it. That involves not creating a walking path that has buses on it. I’ve seen dozens of people already walking in the middle of the road on their device with a bus coming in their direction. It hasn’t happened yet, but it feels like we’re just waiting for an accident to happen.
Furthermore, the pedestrians aren’t the only side getting the short end of this situation. The normal cars that used to utilize Hillside Road to get around campus are now forced to take a detour. This isn’t ideal, but it would be more reasonable if it wasn’t happening just to create a half-hearted walking path. If there were no vehicles and it could be used as a legitimate walkway, then it would be more reasonable to send cars out of their way. Having pedestrians not be able to comfortably walk makes the whole ordeal not worthwhile.
I understand the argument to have buses on Hillside Road. They shouldn’t have to change their schedule; it would be a pain to recreate it for the drivers and students who have gotten used to the routes. However, despite the difficulties of such a task, they either need to bite the bullet or just open the road back up fully. If UConn’s not going to change the bus schedule, then the usefulness of the path is heavily limited.
I’m not going to argue for a side one way or the other as to whether or not UConn should close Hillside Road. Shutting it fully and opening it fully both have their pros and cons, but what they should not do is get the worst of both worlds – as they have right now. Currently, they’re creating an annoying detour for cars without benefitting pedestrians’ safety. Going either way would be acceptable, but the important step is to actually make a choice. The students and the drivers both deserve the clarity; if they don’t decide soon, a pedestrian could get hurt.