Magic flags

I regularly find respite from the demands of the day by roosting on a bench on the Plaza, waving to friends who are walking to and from their workplaces or simply running errands. Yesterday, as I watched the pace and felt the pulse of the downtown, I noticed the hesitancy of most of the drivers, given our latest pedestrian fatality, as they seemed hard pressed to divine the intentions of those of us afoot.

I had just pedaled downtown from Tolman Creek and had a mind full of observations about pedestrian safety on the streets of Ashland. I collected my thoughts, reflected upon them and this is my report:

Most of the Southern Oregon University students that I observed waved off the use of the recently provided safety flags, which seemed to be abundant on one side of the street, while on the other side none were to be found. Otherwise dutiful students crossed Siskiyou at will and at random, seemingly using the crosswalks only when convenient. Many students walked into the traffic while in the midst of an animated cell phone conversation. Others marched along to their personal tunes playing merrily away on their MP3 players.

It seemed as though a throng was walking through a parking lot, but the cars were not parked, they were driving at the posted speed.

I got off my bike and took it all in. Students walking through the landscaping in the lane divider at random, skateboarders and cyclists zipping across the street at angles that defied interpretation, confused motorists hitting their brakes repeatedly, each more anxious than the next to not be part of an accident.

I observed at a distance as a high school girl paraded back toward class flipping a safety flag as if trying out for a cheerleader position. I seemed to be watching a good intention twisting in the breeze.

There are several problems that need to be solved. People of all ages need to keep up their guard when crossing a street. A hastily made flag is not a magic wand and will not stop a car with the flick of the wrist, nor will driving vigilance defeat every incautious and impetuous pedestrian who lacks respect for cars.

Of course, there is the obvious. We have a state highway that basically routes traffic through a university at 30 miles per hour.

The only way to mitigate that is to demand that all students and drivers abide by their respective roles and rules.

Using crosswalks in this dangerous environment should be mandatory, but while I observed many dozen jaywalkers I did not spot a single enforcement officer of any stripe present to warn or ticket a single offender.

The sad truth of the matter is that the situation developed over time and no one could presage the present problem. Siskiyou Boulevard was put in without a destination. It was simply a way to take a Sunday drive in a very public fashion, showing off the family and the new wheels as the automotive age began to gain sway in our small town. You drove out of town, turned around and drove back through, waving and honking.

Southern Oregon University began in 1869 as the Ashland Academy. Over the years, the name and location changed many times, leaving references to Ashland College, Ashland College and Normal School, an official Normal School, the Ashland Collegiate Institute, Southern Oregon State Normal School, Southern Oregon College of Education, Southern Oregon College and Southern Oregon State College.

The addition of dorms, athletic facilities and a recently added media center have spread the campus across the state highway euphemistically called the boulevard, putting people hustling to and from classes in direct conflict with heavy traffic, resulting in our present dilemma.

Little orange cheerleader flags are but a Band-Aid. Without community- and university-wide education and enforcement programs, it will not be long before history repeats itself to our universal dismay.

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