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College Park Learns to "Walk Smart"

After three traffic deaths along Route 1, the University of Maryland take steps to make a campus party zone safer.
Photographs by Caroline Cunningham.

Students generally go to college to learn about subjects like economics or psychology. But the University of Maryland is teaching them how to cross the street.

Since January, three college students have been struck and killed crossing US 1, a busy commuter thoroughfare that cuts through the university’s campus, prompting an elaborate campaign by university and local authorities to make the lethal stretch safer. 

At 2 AM on a Friday in January, University of Maryland senior Cory Hubbard was heading across the four-lane highway, just three miles before it meets the Beltway. A dark sedan hit Hubbard with enough force to throw him ten feet in the air before racing off, leaving Hubbard to die. In April, Carlos Pacanins, a 23-year-old visitor from George Washington University, was struck after an evening of drinking when he stepped out onto the street while the “Don’t Walk” signal was flashing.

These incidents motivated the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) to implement three phases to improve pedestrian safety, which they’re calling the “three E’s”: education, enforcement, and engineering.

SHA has lowered the speed limit from 30 mph to 25 as it crosses campus along a row of popular bars and convenience stores. The SHA has also repainted crosswalks, added “Stop for Pedestrians” signs, and shortened pedestrian wait times at cross walks to cut down on students bolting into traffic out of impatience.

By October, two set sets of yellow flashing lights will be installed to alert drivers that they are entering campus. 

A five-foot iron fence has also been erected down the median, blocking pedestrians from crossing anywhere but on the crosswalks.

John Brown, owner of R.J. Bentley’s, one of the student hangouts along Route 1, isn’t convinced the fence is high enough.

“These kids are caribou,” says Brown. “You know the college environment—every now and again, no obstacle is too high.”

To convince the students to use more caution, University of Maryland has partnered with the highway authority to educate everyone on campus with a campaign called “Walk Smart College Park.”

Sign have appeared in the windows of bars and restaurants along Route 1 and neon-clad student “street teams” are roaming the town to teach passersby about road safety. 

“We have about six to eight street team events planned,” said Cheryl Plainte, an associate director of marketing for the university. “They will be handing out information, giveaways, and shirts. They’ll be talking with students just as an awareness message to ‘Hey—walk smart!’”

The University of Maryland Police Department (UMPD) has also upped its vigilance, increasing police presence in downtown College Park on weekend nights and stopping students to remind them to purchase bike lights and to use the crosswalks.

Thursday evening, yellow caution tape had been strung across the lampposts and trees that line the roadway outside of popular bars to prevent students from stumbling into the street.

“Students are just so accustomed to walking around on a college campus and having cars yield to them,” Plainte said. “Students need to understand that it’s different than crossing some of these alleyways or streets that are on campus surrounded by academic buildings.”

Brown, who has posted Walk Smart signs in his restaurant window and clad his doormen in the campaign’s neon yellow T-shirts, says the campaign has been like nothing he has seen before. 

“I’ve been around here a long time, and I’ve never seen them act so expediently and efficiently,” Brown said. “The awareness that the student population has now is a lot better. They’re encouraging each other to stay out of the streets.”

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Caroline Cunningham joined Washingtonian in 2014 after moving to the DC area from Cincinnati, where she interned and freelanced for Cincinnati Magazine and worked in content marketing. She currently resides in College Park.