Students cross Packer Avenue outside of the crosswalk on Sept. 12. Lehigh University is currently working on plans to make the campus more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly. (Elise Grass/ B&W Staff)

Concerns arise about pedestrian safety around campus


For a random 30 minutes on Oct. 6, The Brown and White recorded 32 people trying to cross the road outside the Bank of America on East 3rd Street. For the 24 different times people (some in groups) tried to walk across, 38 vehicles failed to yield, whereas 20 drivers stopped to let the people go.  

According to Title 75 of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, when there are no traffic-control signals, drivers must yield to pedestrians crossing the road at a marked crosswalk or unmarked intersection.

Five of the 32 pedestrians, however, were jaywalking instead of using the crosswalk, which is also illegal. 

The general rule, according to Title 75, is that when pedestrians aren’t using a crosswalk or intersection, they must let vehicles pass before they cross themselves.

Lehigh University had long-term plans to improve traffic safety on and around its campus, especially with the Pedestrian Experience Connections Initiative from September 2018 through the auxiliary services office. 

This initiative includes plans for updating roadways and enforcing traffic rules to be more accessible and safe for pedestrian use — including the plan for a car-free zone around most Lehigh buildings. According to the initiative, the community will be more “vibrant” if streets are made more walkable and bikeable.

“When that no-car zone was initially discussed, I was very happy about it,” said Jason Schiffer, assistant vice president of campus safety and chief of Lehigh police. “From that pedestrian safety standpoint, making our campus more bicycle-friendly and pedestrian-friendly is a great thing for us to focus on.” 

He said this was one of many plans the pandemic delayed, but he is now working with the city of Bethlehem to help provide traffic-calming measures along Packer Avenue, as it’s a city street that runs right through the middle of Lehigh’s campus. 

Schiffer is advocating to advance plans for better crosswalks, stop lines and other guidelines to be painted on the roadways.

However, he said there are steps pedestrians can take to improve their own safety while walking around campus and the city, such as taking out headphones or earbuds that reduce the ability to hear surroundings or simply watching for traffic more intently.

He said pedestrian safety is about being predictable.

“Walking in a responsible manner is really important,” Schiffer said.

He said driving slower through local small streets and winding roads can protect both drivers and walkers and driving fast around campus doesn’t get drivers anywhere faster, as they still have to stop for stop signs and buses.

“I’m sure that no one wants to be hit by a car, and no one wants to be driving a car and hit a person,” Schiffer said. “Just slowing down a little bit can really help with traffic safety.”

The “challenging” terrain on and near campus — including curvy roads and many trees — can also make driving and walking dangerous, he said.

Zachary Hoover, a student at Kutztown University who works as a sports multimedia intern at Lehigh, said he drives cautiously around campus because he often comes at night.

“It’s a pretty hilly campus,” Hoover said. “There’s a lot of small roads that wind around so it’s kind of tough to figure out when to cross the road and when to not, so that can have you run into some problems.” 

Schiffer pointed out that designated crosswalks that are clearly marked are the safer places to cross the street. Nevertheless, certain unmarked mid-block areas on campus, such as Whitaker Lab, cause conflicts when a lot of students decide to cross there. 

Although the nearest crosswalks are within a minute’s walking distance, Schiffer has observed walking across the middle of the road in front of Whitaker Lab during each class break is not uncommon. 

With frequently occupied parallel parking spaces on both sides of the road, jaywalking students seem to appear suddenly between two parked cars from the driver’s perspective.

“You don’t want to hurt anyone, obviously, when you’re driving, and (jaywalking) kind of makes it hectic,” Hoover said. “So you kind of want to avoid that at all cost. If someone’s doing that, they should stop.” 

Heling Wang, ‘24G, said he walks to class daily and his experiences crossing the roads on campus are usually comfortable with vehicles consciously yielding to students.

“In general, I think everything is fine, but if possible, I want to add more traffic lights in our campus because there’s not many,” Wang said.

Hoover said during his time at Lehigh, most drivers and pedestrians were respectful of each other on the roadways.

Schiffer said Lehigh police are working to improve pedestrian safety and to calm traffic on and around campus, and he believes educating and instructing drivers is a reasonable approach.

“We are kind of keeping in line with the way we try to interact with our community — we don’t just want to have a negative enforcement role,” Schiffer said. “I don’t think (just traditional police strategies are) the best way or the most impactful way that we can address this issue.”

Hasan Jashari, ‘24, was standing on the sidewalk at the corner of East Fourth and Taylor Streets when he was hit by a car on Sept. 15. Jashari sustained serious injuries from the incident, which resulted from a driver running a stop sign, colliding with another vehicle and ultimately hitting him. 

Jashari said Bethlehem police took his statement after he had recently regained consciousness and while he was still very shaken up. On the report, the police indicated Jashari had not sustained any injuries, despite him later being treated for lacerations on his left leg and developing compartment syndrome — a condition caused by pressure buildup from internal bleeding or swelling of tissues — on his right leg. 

He said no changes have been made to the intersection in terms of safety. 

“Given the fact that there have been many accidents at that specific intersection, and then nothing is being done from a resident’s point of view, it was upsetting,” Jashari said. 

South Bethlehem resident Erig Frey said he has been extra cautious driving on the South Side. After growing up here, he said he thinks the intersections on the South Side are “horrible.” 

Frey lives one block from where Jashari’s accident occurred. 

“For a period of time I was seeing accidents up to twice a month between Taylor and Fourth (Streets) alone,” Frey said. 

Jashari said he had to call the Bethlehem Police Department several times to initiate action around the incident, and this lack of support has been challenging. However, he said Lehigh services and the community have been incredibly helpful in his recovery so far. 

Though Schiffer said there are not many recorded car accidents involving pedestrian injuries, he said there still are issues that need to be addressed. 

“I think it would be foolish to just look at numbers or just to wait until something really bad happens before we would take steps to try to fix problems that we’re seeing,” Schiffer said.

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1 Comment

  1. The roads around Lehigh University should be made safer for pedestrians. The University, student representatives, City of Bethlehem and The State should plan a series of meeting to discuss long term upgrades and short term fixes!!! Police ticketing drivers who don’t yield to pedestrians is a short term solution.

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