It’s been five months since Cheri Mitchell was struck and killed by a car in a crosswalk on North Pearl Street.
As of today, that crosswalk is still home to the heavy traffic that flows adjacent to Denison’s campus and is still unhighlighted, unmarked and unlit for pedestrians by more than a small yellow sign.
Judging from the picturesque facade on Broadway, it might be hard to notice the cracks in city planning that threaten the safety of students and residents alike.
“I’ve almost been hit several times where the post office is,” says Isabel Ruksznis ‘18, “there are no pedestrian warnings there and cars often speed down the road. One time I was even honked at while almost being hit. It’s ridiculous. I’m supposed to have the right of way.”
Pedestrian safety in Granville is a contentious issue with many unanswered questions regarding improvements and strategies.
Dennis Couchon, retired journalist turned activist, writes the blog, Granville Walks, in an effort to draw attention to the lack of care he claims city council puts into pedestrian safety.
Committed to pointing out the inadequacy and safety issues on Denison’s roads, Couchon moved to Granville in 2002 where he spent hours walking in the Village with his dog, but he couldn’t handle how many close calls he had with vehicles in the area.
He decided it couldn’t be a coincidence. “I Googled ‘pedestrian safety design.’ I quickly realized that
Granville had done close to nothing to keep pedestrians safe,” Couchon said.
“The Village’s design revolved around moving traffic quickly and efficiently. Granville is deceptive. The Village is beautiful and people are walking everywhere. You assume it must be safe and walkable. The truth is counterintuitive. Granville is extremely and unnecessarily dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists.”
Pedestrian safety has been used as a platform for village council candidates during election season, then promptly swept back under the rug.
Despite minor successful efforts to improve safety 15 years ago, the lack of new updates like walk/don’t walk button signs make concerned citizen’s like Cauchon disappointed.
As Cauchon points out on his blog, the Village came extremely close to enhancing the safety features on the North Pearl Street crosswalk, going so far as to get quotes for the devices, yet the ball was always dropped.
Cauchon also pointed out the lack of general knowledge Granville seems to have on the topic of pedestrian safety entirely, “there is nobody — literally, nobody — on the Village staff who knows anything about pedestrian safety. Pedestrian safety is in no staff member’s job description. The Village has never done pedestrian counts or made any effort to do even basic measurement. The Village is, literally, ignorant on the subject, so even when they mean well, they can’t do well.”
Furthering Cauchon’s argument is the fact that even when Granville makes the first attempt to be safer for pedestrians, the follow through is non-existent.
The Village completed a Safe Routes to School study in 2010, but has not made any of the 12 recommendations suggested by the researchers.
One such recommendation was the addition of motion activated warning lights at the crosswalk where Cheri Mitchell was killed.
While support for Cauchon’s blog from the community has been, in his words, “overwhelming,” there are still community members who disagree with claims that pedestrian safety in Granville is an issue.
While Granville’s Mayor, Melissa Hartfield, was not inclined to respond, Police Chief Bill Caskey claims that concerned citizens have formed a task force to work with the village council in order to identify problem intersections and come up with solutions. The town is also working with an engineering firm to come up with practical ways to increase driver awareness to pedestrians.
Caskey believes pedestrians are truly safe in Granville.
“While Cheri Mitchell’s death was a tragedy, it was by no means an ordinary incident in Granville. Granville has a great deal of pedestrian traffic, and few accidents,” he said.
“On Saturdays from May to October of each year Granville hosts the Farmers Market, which greatly increases the pedestrian traffic.
When situations like that occur, the police step up their visible presence, and help control traffic. They work with both pedestrians and drivers to try and ensure a safe event.”
Despite the arguments, pedestrian safety does seem to be an issue Denison students care about.
Some students feel that the close calls they experience while walking in Granville could be easily rectified, “I don’t get why we can’t just have the walk/don’t walk signs on a timer. Walking in a college town shouldn’t have to be this stressful,” said Ruksznis.
For now, pedestrians must rely on the drivers and their own wits to keep them safe.