Too Unsafe To Walk Here

Juniors Nick Sutton and Nathan Mehmed, creators of the GVSU Students for Sidewalks group

Eric Coulter

Juniors Nick Sutton and Nathan Mehmed, creators of the GVSU Students for Sidewalks group

Anya Zentmeyer

Grand Valley State University junior Nathan Mehmed says without sidewalks, he’ll never walk along 48th Street or Pierce again.

“There’s no walk-ability at all — you have to cut through apartment complexes and through the mud unless you walk on the shoulder of the road, which is gravel,” Mehmed said. “I’ve experienced almost getting hit, and I’m never walking down the side of that road again.”

Mehmed and senior Nick Sutton are the co-creators of the group GVSU Students for Sidewalks, which cropped up on Facebook last October after GVSU student Zachary Somples was hit by a car while biking along Pierce Street. Somples suffered traumatic brain injury as well as injuries to his spinal cord, clavicle and pelvis.

Capt. Brandon DeHaan. assistant director of the Department of Public Safety, said this was the only accident between 42nd Avenue and 48th Avenue that involved a pedestrian or bicyclist on that stretch of roadway in the last five years. He said the investigation determined the accident was a result of Somples failing to stop at the driveway and look both ways before crossing the road.

Most other accidents, DeHaan said, are either intersection-related or weather-related.

After almost hitting a pedestrian while driving down 48th, Mehmed said he emailed Allendale Township about the lack of sidewalks and lighting along the road and encourages other students to do the same.

On the GVSU Students for Sidewalks Facebook page, Sutton and Mehmed posted contact information for Allendale Township and Facilities Planning in an effort to get more students engaged in voicing their concerns.

“I didn’t think we were necessarily going to get as many members as we did, but I know there are people out there who care about it, so there’s more than just what I can do,” Mehmed said. “You have to get a big enough group of people who want something changed.”

Sutton added that the group also encouraged students taking the myGVSU survey to indicate they wanted road improvements like sidewalks and street lighting. Neal Rogness, co-chair of the myGVSU survey, said findings from the climate study will not be available until summer.

Tim Thimmesch, assistance vice president for Facilities Services at GVSU, said the lack of sidewalks and lighting along 48th Street has been a topic of discussion between university administration and Allendale Township on multiple occasions. Jerry Alkema, Allendale Township supervisor, said road improvements along 48th Street are currently scheduled for 2015.

Where Pierce Street is concerned, Thimmesch said sidewalk and lighting improvements have an estimated cost of just under $1 million. There are no immediate plans for sidewalk construction there, he said, since construction is subject to funding availability at the university.

“It kind of goes back to Grand Valley’s mission statement: Educating students to shape their lives, their professions and their societies,” Sutton said. “I think that Grand Valley should try and educate students to shape their societies – meaning shape where they live. Having students say, ‘We want sidewalks, we want safety, we want to promote sustainability by being able to walk without being worried about getting hit by a car, instead of having to drive.’”

Sutton said all urgencies aside, he understands why the university has not been able to move forward as quickly as students would like.

“Grand Valley’s enrollment has increased about 50 percent over the last 10 years, so 10 years ago there weren’t as many students living here, off-campus wasn’t as popular as it is now, so we need to do some catching up,” Sutton said.

However, Mehmed said he thinks that as the student body grows, the university should anticipate these issues in advance.

“I think that in general, there needs to be an infrastructure improvement for pedestrians on and off-campus,” Mehmed said. “Especially with the amount of proposed growth that there is; there needs to be a plan in advance, and not just them trying to catch up.”

In an additional act of advocacy, the Campus Affairs Committee of GVSU’s Student Senate passed a resolution on Dec. 9 urging GVSU’s administration and facilities planning to “create a safe environment for pedestrians along Pierce Street between 48th Street and South Campus Drive.”

“Our student’s concern is very understandable as off campus housing has increased in recent years and resulted in the increase to pedestrian and bicycle traffic along both of these streets,” Thimmesch said. “The university is also looking forward to these needs being met in the future.”

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