The optimistic “stop, look, wave” system has served the Williamstown community for years. During daylight hours, drivers and pedestrians share Route 2, the main road running through the College, without serious issues; however, at night, darkness and lack of awareness make Route 2 a significant safety hazard.
“Having a campus split in two by a state road that is oriented east to west, with changes in elevation, has always caused safety concerns,” David Boyer, director of Campus Safety and Security (CSS) said. “The orientation creates problems at sunrise and sunset while the changes in elevation block vision and tend to magnify the effects of the various competing light sources.”
Benjamin Gips ’19, College Council (CC) Vice President for Student Affairs, has pioneered the initiative to illuminate the Route 2 crosswalks. Gips said that after hearing about a number of accidents on Park Street and Route 2 and having a couple of close calls himself, he decided to take the issue on as his project. In his semester-long effort, he has researched various mechanisms for lighting the crosswalks, met with the town manager and consulted CSS on the issue.
“We’ve found some affordable methods that are effective at getting drivers to stop,” Gips said. The College and town will most likely implement the rectangular rapid flash beacon, or RRFB. Each unit consists of small boxes, a few inches long and an inch high, placed underneath triangular pedestrian signs at the crosswalk. When a pedestrian pushes a button, bright LED lights are activated, flashing in an alternating pattern to alert drivers to pedestrians in the crosswalk. According to Gips’ re-search, “this system minimizes maintenance and implementation costs, fully powered by solar energy.”
CC also considered creating a system of lights built into the pavement. However, this proposal was dismissed because of Williamstown’s snowy winters. Repeated plowing and salting would damage the light fixtures and render the method useless.
As for budgetary concerns, Gips says the source of funds to complete the project is still unclear. He is pursuing different options by working with CSS, the senior administration and town management. “The town is looking into whether or not it has the funds to make it happen,” he said. “And we’re looking into the budget to see if the school can supplement some of the costs for the town.”
The town manager of Williamstown, Jason Hoch ’95, spoke about the possibility of lit crosswalks on Route 2 at the April 13 CC meeting, explaining that the project would most likely proceed by “look[ing] at one crosswalk to see how that works as a demonstration and look[ing] at both pricing and technical options” to analyze what might best serve all parties involved. While improving safety on Route 2 is the main goal of the project, town officials have reiterated the importance of keeping the corridor attractive to drivers and addressing the problem in a way that doesn’t impact traffic flow.
Along with the initiative for better lighting on Route 2, Gips has jumpstarted an awareness campaign through CC to remind the student body that safety is a shared responsibility between pedestrians and drivers. Gips, along with other CC representatives, has created posters and a video describing the new system and the importance of remaining conscious of the dangers posed by the heavily traveled road.
While this initiative may seem over the top to students who come from larger cities, Gips says he is responding to the dangers that come with having a main road cutting through the middle of a campus. Implementation would maintain and improve pedestrian welfare in order to ensure the safety of students, faculty, staff and community members.
Boyer said, “These will not create a force field that will eliminate pedestrian/vehicles collisions but will be a key part of an overall safety program.”