Morgantown locals cry out for pedestrian safety

14 Feb

Frustration and grief filled the faces of West Virginia University students, community members and city officials crowded into the tiny conference room at the Public Safety Building on Spruce Street for the Pedestrian Safety Board meeting Monday evening. The big topic of the discussion was Leah Berhanu, who was struck and killed by a vehicle, while walking through a crosswalk at the intersection of Morill Way and Patteson Drive.

The three streetlights located at the intersection were not working; only two of those lights are currently working, according to the police.

“The fact that so many of us are here should prove that this means a lot to us,” said Syihan Muhammad, a close family friend of Berhanu.

There is about one accident involving a pedestrian per month at that same crosswalk, according to Muhammad.

“I believe there could be better lighting and improved signage at intersections on the perimeters of campus where students often cross,” said Hannah Booth, special events coordinator at the Media Innovation Center and a pedestrian who was struck at the same intersection on Patteson Drive last summer. She suffered a concussion.

The stoplight at the crosswalk is currently a concurrent system, meaning pedestrians can walk when one lane of traffic also has a green light. However, an exclusive system gives pedestrians the right of way while all lanes of traffic have a red light.

“These exclusive pedestrian phases can be found at intersections all over the state of Pennsylvania, but have yet to be installed in West Virginia largely,” Muhammad said. “This is understandable because West Virginia is a rural country, but Morgantown should require the same attention as urban populations.”

While pedestrians are a major concern, the City of Morgantown also has to consider drivers.

“It is difficult to find a one-size-fits-all solution,” said Bill Austin, executive director at Morgantown Metropolitan Planning Organization.

The average travel speed on Patteson Drive is 45 miles per hour. There is a zero chance of survival for a pedestrian struck by a car traveling that speed, according to Kenny Halloway, director of public works.

“At 45 miles per hour, vehicles and pedestrians need to be separated,” Halloway said.

Halloway wants to engineer the problem out of existence by putting up barriers on either side of the road to keep cars separated from the walkways. At the crosswalk, he wants to build a bridge over the road.

This plan has already won the support of the students and residents at the meeting on Monday evening, who were already discussing fundraisers and petitions for the plan.

It might be better for the City of Morgantown to risk upsetting the few people who would even notice the extended wait time than to risk the lives of Morgantown residents.

The students were present to have the conversation that WVU is not having. WVU never released a statement about the accident, which might be because Berhanu was not on campus when the accident occurred— even though she was only steps away. WVU should have released a statement anyway.

Thousands of students walk to class every day, traveling across Patteson Drive, Beechurst Avenue, Stewart Street and other intersections that are all equally dangerous.

This isn’t a problem that only occurs at Patteson Drive, nor is it a problem only WVU students face. This isn’t the first time an accident like this has happened and it will not be the last time if WVU and the City of Morgantown do not swiftly react.

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