No sidewalks factor in roommate’s injury

Andrew Justus

For the past several days my friend and roommate Zach Somples has been in the hospital recovering from injuries he sustained while bicycling to school on Pierce Street. He was forced Wednesday to ride his bike in the street due to the lack of adequate sidewalks along that road.

Despite the incredible growth our campus and community have experienced lately, there are still parts of our transportation infrastructure that are sorely lacking. The Pierce Street corridor is the only way for Copper Beech and Campus View residents to get to campus. The street is devoid of pedestrian-friendly improvements such as sidewalks and street lights except for a small stretch of sidewalk outside Campus View Apartments, which is isolated from other sidewalks.

Without sidewalks, pedestrians and bicyclists like Zach are forced to compete with cars traveling at up to 55 mph (the speed limit for unsigned rural roads) for space. The only alternative for pedestrians is to walk in the muddy drainage ditches on either side of the road. It was only a matter of time until this treacherous environment claimed a victim.

Scary at best in the daytime, the road is an unlit deathtrap for pedestrians and bicyclists when visibility is less than optimal.

“Numerous times at night I’m driving down Pierce and don’t see a pedestrian until I pass him,” said junior Kat Polmear.

According to a 2002 study by the University of North Carolina, the presence of sidewalks along a given roadway lowered the likelihood of a vehicle-pedestrian crash by 88 percent. The same study found that more than 90 percent of all vehicle-pedestrian accidents occur on roads without paved sidewalks.

Georgetown Township manager Dan Carlton said he attended a meeting two weeks ago with Grand Valley State University to discuss sidewalks on 48th Street and possibly on Pierce. He said it was the only time he had heard of a desire to add sidewalks to the road. Carlton also said it would likely be the university’s decision when and where to place the sidewalks.

Jim Bachmeier, vice president of Finance and Administration, said it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when there will be a sidewalk on Pierce Street.

If GVSU wants to consider itself a premier university, it must first give its students a fighting chance to get to school. Without the addition of sidewalks along Pierce Street, Zach will not be the last student to have his life changed because of the lack of a simple sidewalk.

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