Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Speed Limit More of a Suggestion at UMB, Survey Says

The screech of breaks. The shatter of breaking glass. The sickening thump of a ton of steel colliding against frail human bodies.

That was the scene when a bus rear-ended a Mini-Cooper stopped at the crosswalk next to the McCormack building last semester, catapulting the car into two students crossing the street. Apart from one broken foot, the two students limped away with only bruises. Yet months later, traffic enforcement hasn’t changed on the UMB beltway and the victims fear that they may not be the last to fall prey to the perilous pedestrian crossing.

“No one stops unless there are crossing guards. And the bus drivers still barrel around the campus center – half the time they’re not paying attention to the road,” said one of the students hit by the Bus and Mini Cooper combo, Emma Franco.

But most UMB students don’t agree. In fact 76 of 100 students interviewed for this article said the speed bumps near Wheatley Hall should be removed.

“You can’t go over the speed bumps at 25 miles an hour. You’ll break an axel,” said one student who was smoking under the Wheatley building.

Even though 25 miles an hour seemed like an appropriate speed limit to most students – 82 in the survey – 77 students said they regularly break the speed limit.

“You don’t realize how slow 25 miles an hour is, especially when you’re coming off of Morrissey on to a four lane road. It feels like you’re crawling,” a student said.

“The cops here can be ridiculous too, with the tickets. I know it’s the speed limit, but really. They just sit there waiting for us to go one or two miles an hour over it and give out tickets. They’re trying to make a quota,” said a student eating with several friends in the cafeteria.

Other students in the group agreed – two had been given speeding tickets on campus in the past year. But when asked if any of them had ever gotten a ticket on campus for going less than 30 miles an hour, they said they hadn’t.

“Especially when you’re leaving campus, you just don’t pay attention to your speed,” one of the students said.

For this survey I asked three questions and promised to keep the answers anonymous:

1.     Do you think that 25 miles an hour is an appropriate speed limit on campus? 82 students said that 25 miles an hour seems fair. 18 said the limits should be 30 or 35 miles an hour. No one thought that a slower speed limit would be productive.
2.     When you drive on campus do you follow the speed limit? Only 23 of the people polled said they follow the speed limit on campus, and 77 said they didn’t follow it all the time.
3.     Do you think the speed bumps are useful to remind you to go slower, or are they just an inconvenience? 24 people said the speed bumps are useful, reminding them to slow down, while 76 said that the speed bumps should be removed.
In general the students polled seemed to see the traffic laws on campus as pragmatic suggestions, useful for most people. But no one polled gave any indications that traffic laws on campus should be more strictly enforced.

Every student asked these questions had an opinion, whether they drive to school or not.
“I have noticed that the busses drive pretty fast around campus,” a student who wasn’t included in this survey said while waiting for the bus outside of the Campus Center. “But I think that 25 miles an hour is a pretty good bench mark.”

UMB Police Lieutenant Stan Stewart, when reached for his take on UMB traffic law enforcement said he didn’t have time to comment.

“I’m off to a meeting right now . . . I’ll get back to you tomorrow – probably,” said Detective Stewart.*

An anonymous source told me that all other UMB police officers have been instructed not to speak with the press.

“I’m on duty, sir. Please talk with the department if you have any questions,” said an officer directing traffic on a crosswalk near the Clark Center.

Campus police certainly work hard and pull people over from time to time. There’s no need for the police to be more aggressive, Emma Franco pointed out. It’s up to students. The same people who drive on campus need to be able to cross the street.

“Obviously traffic needs to slow down . . . It’s a campus there are 15000 people walking around, and it’s spring. People are going to want to cross the street and sit on the grass. Just drive slowly for two minutes. It’s not that hard,” said Franco.

* Meetings didn’t stop coming up for Lt. Stewart, so I gave up on getting his take on speeding on campus. I like the guy, but he doesn’t seem to trust me. Last semester I wrote an article quoting a student who thought that campus police are lazy, and put in a response from Stewart—in my opinion a provocative response. After that the police chief forbid everyone in the department from talking with me.

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