Letter to the editor: Sidewalks on 48th Ave.

Kendall Gilbert

To Grand Valley State University Administration,

Myself, and a wide community of other alumni, staff, students and community members are extremely concerned about the issue of pedestrian safety for students who are using arterial entrances to Grand Valley’s Allendale Campus.

The recent news of yet another student being hit by an automobile on 48th Avenue marks two vehicle related accidents affecting pedestrians in the first month of the fall semester. Two students is two too many, especially when such accidents are preventable. The administration should no longer ignore the fact that these accidents could have been prevented from an infrastructure.

Last year, members within the Department of Geography and Planning including current Geography and Planning students and alumni held a panel discussion on alternative design opportunities for 48th Avenue that would improve safety and provide more equitable options for students who choose to walk or bike to campus. This panel and its recommendations were met with marginal interest from GVSU administration and community affiliates. There has been little follow through, and there was no dedicated action plan to incorporate panel findings and suggestions into future plans.

It is time for Grand Valley to make pedestrian safety a priority at the west entrance to the GVSU campus. Since Grand Valley enrollment numbers show no sign of slowing, further justifying the need for expanded off-campus housing in Allendale Township along 48th Avenue, the university should accept responsibility for maintaining continuity of on-campus safety standards to its off-campus facilities.

Maintaining a strong network of non-motorized accessibility is not only in the best interest of Grand Valley from a safety standpoint, it is also an equitable investment that should not be treated with the nonchalance that it has thus far. Further, a commitment to campus safety is an extension of Grand Valley’s desire to maintain their position as one of the most environmentally responsible colleges in the U.S. and Canada for the fifth year in a row by The Princeton Review. In addition to LEED buildings, composting efforts, and expanded courses in sustainability, Grand Valley needs to address non-motorized transportation as a critical long term sustainability effort.

It is well-known that 48th Avenue is under the jurisdiction of Allendale Township. It is time for the university to aggressively pursue a collaborative initiative with the Township and Ottawa County to provide very basic infrastructure improvements ahead of and in spite of the poorly justified expansion (from two to four lanes) of 48th Avenue in the coming years. Your student body cannot wait. According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ (AASHTO) A Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets (also known as “the Green Book”): “Providing safe places for people to walk is an essential responsibility of all government entities involved in constructing or regulating the construction of public rights-of-way.”

How about working on a collaborative initiative with Allendale Township and Ottawa County to provide safe pedestrian crossing and bike access on 48th Avenue and West Campus Drive? How about making that a priority for the remainder of 2014? How about ensuring that off-campus students have safe, dedicated, well-appointed public facilities to walk on or bike on next semester? How about being proactive rather than suffering more student injuries due to lack of consensus, investment, and initiative on critical public planning issues?

You are a top-ranked public university. A national leader in sustainability. An important academic institution both regionally and statewide. You have several reasons to be concerned about student safety and encouraged by the opportunities that exist to take a proactive approach to public infrastructure planning. You have welcomed a record number of incoming freshman this year. Several of your sororities and fraternities will benefit from a new $20 million off-campus housing project in the area of concern. You have spent over one year working with the Rapid to assess the feasibility of the Laker Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project between Allendale and Grand Rapids aimed at improving non-motorized transportation. You have a new Campus Sustainability Advisory Council comprised 25 faculty and staff members who want to ensure that Grand Valley is a good place to be.

Keep your students safe. The surest measure of campus safety is to provide equitable infrastructure for all users. Work with community affiliates to bring public infrastructure up to par, and be willing to fund such initiatives as readily as you are willing to fund the development of on-campus infrastructure. A university’s greatest asset is not its buildings, but its people. Invest robustly in their health and well-being and we will continue to be recognized for the qualities that have made Grand Valley reputable in decades past and in decades to come.

The current conditions of the 48th Avenue and West Campus Drive thoroughfares are unacceptable.


Kendall Gilbert

Urban and Regional Planner, Williams & Works, Grand Rapids

GVSU Alum, 2012

Geography and Planning, B.S.

Anthropology, B.A.