Administration begins sidewalk discussion

The sidewalk on Pierce St. abruptly ends, making it dangerous for pedestrians to traverse.

Eric Coulter

The sidewalk on Pierce St. abruptly ends, making it dangerous for pedestrians to traverse.

Chelsea Lane and Anya Zentmeyer

Students dot the shoulders of the roads on Pierce and 48 West teetering between green grass and tough asphalt on the commute between campus and the off-campus apartments. The lack of sidewalks on high traffic streets surrounding campus has been an on-going problem for Grand Valley State University, but recently it become a high priority issue for the administration to address.

Last year, the university created the Parking-Transportation-Traffic Committee, whose first task was to conduct a study of traffic and transportation patterns on campus in order to potentially improve the flow of traffic at GVSU. Potential improvements could include sidewalks along Pierce Street or West Campus Drive, as well as separate bike and car lanes in other locations.

Vice President of Facilities Planning James Moyer said the university typically designs its sidewalk plans based on the location of on-campus facilities and other areas of heavy foot traffic.

“As we develop facilities on the various campuses, we alter and add sidewalks as required to support the structures,” he said. “As needs are identified and confirmed, the same is true.”

Vice President of Public Relations Matt McLogan said the university is aware of the rising student concern. “We are well aware that this is high on the list of student concerns,” he said. “We have had discussions every year about expanding sidewalks and lighting — that’s a fairly common topic. We believe it’s appropriate for a more global discussion, which includes the privately owned apartment complexes on our border and the township and we’re endeavoring to move along those lines and believe that’s the kind of discussion we should have but I don’t have a timeline for it necessarily.”

If the university opts to build sidewalks on the north side of Pierce Street, it would need permission from Ottawa County, which owns a small plot of that land. Allendale Township Supervisor Jerry Alkema said the township does not yet have specific millage funding available for adding sidewalks, but the township is willing to coordinate with GVSU for future construction plans.

“If there is something we can help and coordinate with Grand Valley for in the future, we will do so,” he said.

According to the Ottawa County Road Commission, plans to add a boulevard and sidewalks to 48th Avenue is currently scheduled to be completed by 2015.

The lack of sidewalks recently became a hot-button issue amongst GVSU students when sophomore Zach Sompels was struck by a car while riding his bicycle near Campus View Townhomes last week. Paramedics transported Sompels to Butterworth Hospital where he remains in the Intensive Care Unit with injuries to his spinal cord, clavicle, brain and pelvis. As of Sunday, he is still on a ventilator, and doctors have reportedly estimated a full recovery could take up to two years.

In response to the accident, a Facebook group, “GVSU Students for Sidewalks,” was created on Monday. The group already has more than 1,400 fans.

“This group was set up mainly to express student support for the need of sidewalks and lighting down Pierce Street in Allendale in the wake of a recent student bike accident on this heavily traveled road,” the group description reads. “It is understood that Allendale is a growing college town and has had a hard time keeping up with infrastructure in the shadow of GVSU’s rapid growth. However … the lack of sidewalks around the GVSU Allendale Campus in particularly Pierce Street and 48th Avenue is extremely evident as students walk, jog and ride their bikes on the shoulders of these roadways on a daily basis. As GVSU’s enrollment continues to increase and the campus continues to expand this problem will continue to get worse.”

[email protected]