Reminding adults of a childhood lesson: Look both ways!

Photos: Look both ways!: Yale's pedestrian safety campaign

One of the street stencils on campus reminding pedestrians to pay attention to what is ahead of them as they cross the street.
This crew spent time over the summer spray painting the stencils on campus sidewalks. Pictured are (front row, left to right) Shumin Bian, Emma Bahroos, and Kevin Charbonneau; (back row) James D'Addio, Deborah Farat, Kim Heard, Dr. Kirsten Bechtel, and Miguel Berrios.
Signage reminding pedestrians of what they learned as young children has been placed near busy campus intersections ...
... and as a billboard in front of Woolsey Hall.
Dr. Kirsten Bechtel, Miguel Berrios, and Kim Heard stencil near a busy crosswalk.
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When it comes to street smarts — as in how to safely navigate the roadways, that is — it may be true that we learned the most important lessons in kindergarten.

Sometimes, though, reminders are needed.

Yale recently launched a new pedestrian safety campaign to remind everyone on campus of street-wise behavior. Now scattered about the campus are signs that say: “Look Both Ways Before Crossing the Street! You learned this as a little kid, but it is just as important now that you’re a big kid.”

This summer, the signs were placed on lawns and kiosks near intersections that are some of the trickiest to navigate, and one also appears in billboard form in front of Woolsey Hall. The signs will be rotated throughout the semester to different areas of the campus, with the goal of reminding students and others walking through campus to keep their travels safe.

In addition, stencils on streets and sidewalks have been spray painted at spots throughout the campus urging “Don’t Read This! Look Up!” to remind pedestrians to keep their eyes focused on the road. The sidewalk and street stenciling began in the spring on the medical campus as part of a Yale Day of Service project, and has now become part of the pedestrian safety campaign on central campus.

The reminders are especially important at a time when so many pedestrians are distracted by mobile phones as they read or write emails or text messages, or call friends, notes Dr. Kirsten A. Bechtel, a pediatrician and associate professor at the School of Medicine who chairs Yale’s Traffic Safety Subcommittee.

“We take for granted our ability to move around freely, but now that technology is so readily available to us, we tend to forget to put it down when we’re doing things like crossing the street,” she says. “With so many pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists traveling through the campus, and the distraction of technology, there’s a confluence of things that could make for a horrible event.”

The new signs were designed by New York City graphic artist Jason Shelowitz, who offered several proposals for Yale’s campaign. Bechtel surveyed students to see which ones they liked best, and Yale’s Office of Environmental Health & Safety installed one of the students’ favorites.

“We wanted to see what we could do to raise awareness,” says Peter Reinhardt, director of the Office of Environmental Health & Safety. “The new signs are a little bit tongue-in-cheek, but they get people’s attention. Our hope is that if people see the message enough, it might begin to make a difference in how they behave.”

Reinhardt notes that pedestrians are most at risk for injury in traffic, so the campaign’s first focus is getting them to use crosswalks, stop using their phones while crossing the street, to look both ways, and to make eye contact with car drivers or cyclists who are coming in their direction before crossing streets to ensure that all those sharing the road see each other.

The university does not have a record of how many Yale affiliates are injured in traffic-related accidents on or near campus, as those injured are treated at various medical sites. However, every year about 100 adults in New Haven are treated in emergency centers after they are struck by a car, according to Reinhardt.

Yale’s Traffic Safety Subcommittee of the University Safety Committee was established three years ago in response to the 2008 death of Yale medical school student Mila Rainoff at the intersection of South Frontage Road and York Street, where she was hit by a car. The subcommittee developed a Web-based, campus-wide survey to identify unsafe intersections, and has been working with the Yale Police Department, the City of New Haven, and others to help make the streets safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. Reinhardt and other members of the subcommittee have also explored some of the street safety improvements made at other college campuses.

Reinhardt admits that changing the behavior of pedestrians is not simple.

“There is a lot of thought put into how to influence people’s behavior about all kinds of things in life, and trying to get someone to change is not easy,” he acknowledges. “But that’s not an excuse for not trying.”

Reinhardt says the next phase of the pedestrian safety campaign — to be launched a few months from now — is likely to involve a Beatles-themed sign (à la the photo of John, Paul, George, and Ringo in the crosswalk on the “Abbey Road” cover). It will tackle the problem of pedestrians walking out into the street from between parked cars.

In the spring, the focus will be on bicycle safety, he says.

Having just witnessed an accident on the campus in which a pedestrian on a cell phone collided with a cyclist, knocking the rider down, Bechtel is hopeful that the new campaign will make a difference.

“Anything we do that raises people’s awareness about how they have to share the road is important,” she says. “The more people are involved in thinking about their behavior, the more likely it is that we’ll have safer streets.”