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Uncle Sam: How to make Ohio University more walkable

Ask any student what they cherish most about going to Ohio University, and perhaps the most likely response will be the simple beauty of the campus. OU’s brick buildings, colonial architecture and scenic landscape combine to present a familiar yet uniquely elegant look that could’ve been the inspiration for any cliché college movie.

Getting to walk from place to place on campus is a surefire, healthy way to take in the campus’ charms. OU’s campus is strewn with sidewalks and paths that make walking all the easier. Even so, the campus could be made more walkable.

According to renowned urban planner Jeff Speck, “walkability” can be conceived as how useful, safe, comfortable and interesting walking is as a mode of transportation. Walking is not only a more amusing and healthy way to travel, but it is also a more sustainable and social method of transportation. When we walk (as opposed to driving), we reduce the fuel needed to power a vehicle, we put our muscles to good use and we are more likely to cross paths with friends and acquaintances.

Walks on Ohio University’s campus are already useful and interesting. Improvements, however, could always be made in the realms of safety and comfortability. The best way to augment pedestrian safety is to limit vehicle use and speed. This can be achieved through the proliferation of public transit, the reduction of parking or even narrowing roads to slow drivers down. Perhaps one of the most direct methods available to supporting safety for pedestrians is to ban vehicles from areas with high foot traffic.

OU recently missed a chance to do just this: during the construction of OU’s new chemistry building, University Terrace was closed between Race Street and South Green Drive. Keeping that stretch closed would have supported safe pedestrian travels for those going to class in Clippinger Hall or the new chemistry building, those going to work out at Ping Recreation Center and those going to relax and study in the suite-style residence halls. Now, however, with the building nearing operational status, the road has been reopened even though its closure did not seem to cause traffic problems on the rest of the campus’ grid.

Other small stretches of roads would also be excellent candidates for reservation for pedestrians, like Court Street. Indeed, more and more cities – like New York, Oakland, Boston and Minneapolis – are opening car-free zones to protect pedestrians and encourage commerce. Ohio University and Athens could easily do the same.

Increased comfortability could come in the creation of new sidewalks and the reparation of old ones. Go on any lawn on OU’s campus, and you will likely see narrow dirt paths. When it snows, such impromptu pedestrian paths are even more apparent. In urban planning, these sorts of informal paths without infrastructure are called desire lines because they illuminate a place where people “desire” pedestrian infrastructure. Often, desire lines appear where the existing network of pedestrian infrastructure is inefficient – it curves and zig-zags where something straight would be more expeditious.

Another important way to improve comfort would come in improving the accessibility of current sidewalks. Certain paths across campus are in disrepair, with potholes or uneven lips that pose significant obstacles to those with mobile impairments and over which many of us have undoubtedly stumbled.

These are just a few strategies that could make Ohio U more walkable and accessible – there are others. Pursuing them would bring social, ecological and physical benefits to students (current and prospective) staff, faculty and visitors alike. 

Sam Smith is a senior studying geography at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Sam know by tweeting him @sambobsmith_.  

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