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Crosswalk safety must be improved

"Welcome to pedestrian friendly Ashland" reads one of our community's welcome signs, this one located on Oak Street. We are all familiar with repetitively stopping at one of the many crosswalks located on Siskiyou Boulevard, especially when classes are letting out. Some cars slow quickly to let pedestrians pass, while others rush by, oblivious and unaware of how much damage their vehicle is able to cause. With the recent accidents involving pedestrians, mainly students, and vehicles, one must stop and reconsider how pedestrian friendly Ashland really has become.

Some have argued that the pedestrians here in Ashland seem unaware and don't pay as much attention to crossing as they would in other cities where drivers aren't as inclined to stop.

"In the city of Ashland in general, the pedestrians tend to be really careless. There's a comfort zone where they expect drivers to see everything," said Dawn Hatchard, a junior from Redding, Calif.

Pedestrians should be more aware while crossing the street, especially at a crosswalk without lights, but let's be real here &

it is not the person crossing the street causing the problem. It is the person behind the wheel. Both Gladys Jimenez, the SOU student who fell victim to one of these crosswalk accidents, and another pedestrian who was hit by a car earlier this week were reportedly on their phones while crossing the street. While paying attention is an absolute must for anyone on foot, it is really important for drivers to understand that operating a vehicle is a huge responsibility which requires full attention, all of the time. How dare we criticize these pedestrians for being on their phones when many drivers are routinely adjusting the radio, texting, drinking a coffee and rushing to work at any given moment? Whether the pedestrian is paying attention or not, it is the car that's going to do the damage and we must never underestimate that.

With the multiple accidents on Siskiyou Boulevard, steps have been taken to improve the safety of the crosswalks. So far, the only thing implemented has been the orange-colored flags set up at each crossing, while other alternatives are still being discussed.

"I actually got hit (in my car) on Monday because the driver behind me was preoccupied with some girls playing with the flags in front of the high school," said Sophia Gonsales, a senior from Ashland. "I heard Tuesday that somebody got hit. I think it's kind of scary."

Miss Gonzales is not the only student who has something to say about the flags.

"I almost got killed outside of the 7-Eleven years ago, now I always wait 'til (the drivers) stop before walking out. I don't use the flags but they're a good idea I suppose," said Jeff Fretwell, a junior from Ashland. "At bigger schools when you have a spot like that, they usually have tunnels or bridges, or at least a light," Fretwell went on to say. When asked if he had any advice for pedestrians or drivers he replied, "Pay attention."

When asked about the safety of the crosswalks in front of SOU, Nic Walton, a senior from Santa Rosa, Calif. responded, "I think it needs to be improved. I've heard some of the suggestions going around like flashing lights on the crosswalks, and medians, as well as overhead flashing lights."

When asked about the death of Gladys, Walton replied, "I am from the same town she is from, they have lights like that there. I read people's comments on either the Tidings or Mail Tribune Web site and it felt like the community was placing blame on her, but blame needs to be placed on bad drivers." Some comments suggested that Gladys could have been distracted while on her cell phone. "I think the police need to do something to regulate or monitor that area," said Walton. Many other students agreed.

While the community is working in conjunction with SOU to formulate a plan to improve crosswalk safety, something needs to happen immediately, more than the safety flags.

Some suggestions heard around campus have been lowering the 30 mph speed limit to 25 mph, increasing the wattage in the streetlights to improve visibility, setting up lights at the crosswalks themselves, or building a pedestrian-only bridge across Siskiyou.

It is questionable whether one of these ideas could be entirely effective. It is going to take a number of different factors to improve the safety of our crosswalks, making "pedestrian friendly Ashland" truly safe for those on foot.