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Gonzaga student body campaigns for pedestrian safety

Gonzaga University has stepped up a pedestrian safety campaign after four students have been hit at intersections near the school since January.

“You need a light?” a student government member asked Friday as he offered a blinking red light to a student leaving campus. The Gonzaga Student Body Association handed out nearly 500 of the flashing red safety lights this week to students who live off campus.

Since the beginning of 2009, 10 pedestrians have been hit by vehicles around the GU campus, according to data from Spokane police and Gonzaga officials. While intersections around the campus may not be the most dangerous in Spokane, the recent accidents have heightened worries at the university.

“Something needs to be done in response to a concern for student safety,” said Shea Vincent, student body vice president. “We hope that the blinking red lights will be an obvious indicator to oncoming traffic, forcing drivers to slow down and look for people crossing the road.”

Junior Michela Keefe, who lives off campus, said the blinking lights “are a step in the right direction after what’s been happening.”

On Feb. 5, two Gonzaga students were injured crossing Hamilton Street at Sharp Avenue when a driver hit them in the intersection. Sarah Elizabeth Burford, 33, reportedly had a blood-alcohol level of 0.09. She’s facing a charge of vehicular assault.

Students also were hit on Jan. 28 and on Feb. 7.

Spokane police Officer Teresa Fuller said police have concerns for pedestrian safety near “any type of campus where there are kids, be it a college, a high school, a middle or a grade school.”

But motorists aren’t the only ones who need to be aware; pedestrians need to take responsibility, too.

“Pedestrians are texting and stuff while they are crossing the road” or looking down at their feet, said Sammy Ross, student government communications director. “Next week, we want to put up some signs at the intersections that say: Stop. Look up. Be aware.”

Mary Joan Hahn, university spokeswoman, said there’s an ongoing campaign on Gonzaga’s campus about pedestrian safety. Some of the tips: Cross defensively and make eye contact with the driver.

“One of the problems we’ve seen repeatedly is that a driver will stop in one lane, but the car in the other lane does not,” Hahn said. “Assume the driver does not see you, and wear bright clothing.”

According to 2009-’10 data from Spokane police, three of the five worst intersections for pedestrian and cyclist safety are in the downtown corridor – Browne Street and Third Avenue, Browne and Second Avenue and Division Street and Third Avenue.

In the downtown corridor there’s a higher density of people on foot just like a school campus, and that increases the chances of an accident, Fuller said.

Another one of the worst intersections is Division and Francis Avenue.

Said Fuller, “that’s one of the busiest intersections in Spokane.”

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