Wearing neon yellow vests and gloves, student traffic controllers are directing crowds of bustling pedestrians and vehicles at some of the busiest intersections on campus. They aim to reduce cross-campus travel times, improve pedestrian safety, and increase sustainability.
Transportation and Parking Services (TAPS) implemented a traffic control pilot program this Spring Quarter after receiving complaints about the increasing amount of traffic and pedestrians crossing during class breaks.
“Most of our campus roads and sidewalks were built to handle about 5,000 students, and with 15 or 16 thousand, they’re just overflowing,” said Susan Willats, assistant director of TAPS. “We have these big traffic back-ups that not only affect individual drivers, but that also affect campus shuttles and Metro buses.”
TAPS initially debuted the Traffic Control Project at Porter College, and will be gradually adding traffic controllers to six intersections by the end of the quarter, including those at Science Hill, Colleges Nine and Ten, McLaughlin Drive and Chinquapin Road, Crown and Merrill Colleges, and Cowell College and the Bay Tree Bookstore. Student traffic controllers, who make up TAPS Corps, direct pedestrians and vehicles during the school days’ three class breaks.
“Our focus, first and foremost, is safety and getting people around faster,” said Laura McCaan, lead traffic director. The project also aims to reduce the number of buses and cars idling in the intersections in order to help reduce gasoline usage.
Assistant Director Willats stressed the great need for traffic controllers to guide pedestrians, due to distractions and lack of attention. “Students are using cell phones and iPods, spacing out, and walking right into traffic,” she said.
So far, approximately 30 trained students have learned basic hand signals and methods used to control traffic and let pedestrians know when it is safe to cross. The TAPS Corps worker position is offered through student employment at the Career Center to those with or without work study. TAPS is currently looking to hire an additional 30 workers, to be paid $8.50 an hour, to efficiently monitor traffic.
“Every intersection is really quite unique in the challenges it presents, and it’s taking a while to figure out how to get it under control,” Willats said. “We’re also having a hard time hiring students and training them fast enough. We need more people.”
Mansi Joshi, a first-year health sciences major from College Eight, enjoys her job as a TAPS Corps worker, believing that many are safer with the program in place.
“I really think that the program is a good idea,” Joshi said. “Before the traffic program, kids would try to run in the street, almost getting run over. Some students are impatient with the [directing], but they don’t understand why we’re here — we’re trying to create efficient traffic flow.”
After sending an e-mail to the campus requesting feedback, Willats found that a large number of people were thrilled with the project, saying that it made transportation move more smoothly. Many others feel frustrated with and skeptical of the new program.
“[One of the] main issues [is] that people may feel insulted, because they know how to cross the street,” Willats said. “The thing is, everyone knows how to cross the street, but, as a crowd, we are not good at modifying our behavior. When there is a group of people at the intersection, they just keep flowing across.”
Director McCaan also said that the project has had a positive impact, as witnessed by the approval from shuttle drivers demonstrated by friendly waves to traffic control workers.
Students who often walk to class, like Allie Cooperman, a first-year College Ten sociology major, feel that they do not benefit from the program as much as motor vehicles do.
“As a pedestrian, it slows me down. But it is faster for the cars. So I guess, in that sense, it is good,” Cooperman said. “It just takes me longer to get to class.”
Some of the negative feedback about the project includes concerns about funding for the program amidst the university’s current budget cuts.
“[The program] does cost money, but right now this is coming out of parking fees because it’s benefiting so many drivers. What [TAPS] is looking into now is trying to apply for grant monies on-campus and from different resources. People are also worried that spending is taking money away from the shuttle system, but it’s not.”
Willats, assistant director of TAPS, views the stationing of traffic controllers as an effective way to deal with the transportation issue, as opposed to ignoring the problem or putting in traffic lights, “which are hideously expensive,” she said. “They are half a million dollars apiece and there is no guarantee that people will pay attention to them, at least [not] pedestrians who usually cross [anyway].”
The Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) will make a decision on May 12 on whether or not to make the program permanent in the fall, covering four to six class breaks.
“From the feedback so far, it looks like the program will be continued,” Director McCaan said.
TAPS measured automotive travel time from the base of campus and back before the program’s implementation, and has plans to measure the time again at the end of the quarter, once workers are stationed at all intersections to measure improvement.
Willats has high hopes for the continuation and further improvement of cross-campus transit and pedestrian safety next year. “The question we have to face is ‘do we want to continue this,’ and I think the answer is clearly, ‘yes.’”