BURLINGTON — Crossing the intersection at University Heights and Main Street has become more akin to an ultimate-stakes game of “Frogger” than a simple walk to class. The top of the hill by the University of Vermont has been deemed a “High Crash Location” by the Vermont Agency of Transportation, and the intersection has been the scene of 105 crashes between 2012 and 2018. Three of the incidents involved pedestrians, seven involved heavy vehicles and 20 resulted in injuries, according to UVM Director of the Center for Research on Vermont Richard Watts.
On Monday, April 29, the UVM student Government Association and students from the Media and Politics class – who conducted a traffic study at the site on April 23 – shared their findings and called for improvements.
“The city and UVM cannot wait to take action until something tragic does happen,” said Student Government Association President Jillian Scannell. “They must act now.”
According to the Media and Politics class’s traffic study, about 14,705 cars and 6,366 pedestrians passed through the intersection during a nine-hour observation period. Its busiest hour spanned 11 a.m. - noon. Observations between 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. found about 104 drivers operating their cell phones behind the wheel there, equal to about two per minute. Between 8 and 9 a.m., about 71 drivers ran a red or yellow light.
The site was identified as the busiest of its kind at UVM, according to Watts.
“Everybody sort of knows it’s a problem,” he said, adding he’s been keen to have students study the area to both call attention to the danger there, as well as to see how such attention can help bring about change.
Cassie Crawford, a junior, helped with the traffic study.
“I was shocked and horrified by the number of distracted drivers I saw,” she said. “I even saw a man driving through that intersection [while] plucking his eyebrows in the rearview mirror.”
Over her time at the university, Crawford said she’s both almost been hit, and has almost hit pedestrians at the intersection of University Heights and Main Street. “It’s not the safest place here on campus,” she added.
According to Crawford, UVM hired a professional to offer suggestions for road safety improvements there. Among the suggestions were widening the crosswalk to allow more pedestrians across per cycle, bumping out the curbs to narrow the drive and slow vehicles, as well as synchronizing the red lights to prevent people turning while pedestrians are mid walk.
“It’s a main artery for traffic in Burlington,” said Angus Doherty, a junior and one of the students who participated in the traffic study. It’s possible, he added, the intersection has the busiest pedestrian crosswalk in the state. And while there is an underground pedestrian tunnel a short walk down the hill, students generally cross at the intersection because it’s that much closer to their dorms.
“It’s such a great feature to have here,” Doherty said. “That’s the safe way to go about crossing the road, but just the extra 100 feet, they [students] just don’t do it as much as they should.”
According to Crawford, next steps will include talking to UVM officials, Adam Roof and Jack Hanson the city councilors who represent their district – and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger.
“It’s a collaborative effort,” Scannell said. “While the road itself is owned by the city I think we all need to step in. Let’s come together and do something to help our students.”