Support for sidewalks increases

Audra Gamble

According to the Ottawa County Road Commission, there has been a history of car accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists on 48 th Avenue. However, this trend seems to be getting worse as at least three Grand Valley State University students have been involved in such accidents since the start of the fall semester.

The first accident of the semester was a hit and run incident on Sept. 6. The GVSU student who was hit by the car had minor injuries and was taken to a Grand Rapids hospital.

A second student was hit on Sept. 25 and was also taken to a hospital for treatment of minor injuries. The student was attempting to cross 48th Avenue at West Campus Drive.

More recently, an Allendale resident was hit by a GVSU student on Oct. 16. The Allendale resident was hit at the entrance to 48 West apartments and was taken to the hospital for non-life threatening injuries.

In light of the recurring accidents on 48 th Avenue, GVSU and Allendale administrators are taking notice of the safety concerns.

Patricia Houser, professor of urban planning at GVSU has recently spoken at Executive Committee Senate and Student Senate meetings. As a mother of cross country runners, she said that the lack of safe sidewalks on 48 th Avenue is concerning to her.

“When I see cross country runners running on 48 th Avenue, my heart stops,” Houser said. “There’s no place for them to run.”

For Houser, the biggest concern is a lack of sidewalks and walkability on an avenue that approximately 4,200 GVSU students live off of.

“A road is unsafe if it has a lack of space dedicated to bicyclists or people walking,” Houser said. “If there’s no special place for you to walk and you’re just walking on the edge of the road, then you’re in danger.”

However, it’s not just professors that have taken notice of the safety problem bordering the Allendale Campus.

Recent GVSU alumnus and practicing urban planner Nathan Mehmed noted that when he was a student in Allendale from 2008 to 2012, there were quite a few accidents along 48 th Avenue and Pierce Street.

“There’s really no sidewalks. There are a few here and there, but no crosswalks,” Mehmed said. “Everyone walks on the side of the road. The other problem on that street is that there’s no lighting, it’s really hard to see if someone’s walking.”

According to Houser, Allendale Township currently has a plan in the works to expand 48 th Avenue to four lanes. For Houser, this plan is unacceptable, as she said that more lanes makes it more dangerous for students to cross the street and the wider road will result in cars traveling faster. The plans for the road expansion were created in 2004, when there were far fewer apartment complexes on 48th Avenue than there are now.

“Allendale will say they’re a rural community, but with 4,000 people living on a road, that by definition is an urban density,” Houser said. “We need to separate drivers from the pedestrians.”

After the accidents of the past two months, the Ottawa County Road Commission and Allendale Township seem to be modifying their plan a bit.

WOOD TV 8 reported that the township and the road commission are in talks about including a paved pedestrian path and including a median barrier in the expansion plans. However, this plan would still include turning 48 th Avenue into a boulevard. This plan would, at the earliest, be put into action in 2016.

The Ottawa County Road Commission has responded to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Lanthorn by stating that there are no concrete plans on the table as of now for any construction on 48 th Avenue.

There will be one more review where the public gets to comment on the proposal, but that meeting has not been planned yet.

Once the meeting is scheduled, Houser encourages students to attend and voice their opinion.

“If students showed up in massive numbers and said, ‘we want three lanes instead of four and we want a bike lane,’ (students) would have to be listened to. You are the largest stakeholders here.”

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