Engineering Strategies in Campus Areas

Pedestrian and bicycle safety can be improved by redesigning roadways and providing pedestrian and bicycle facilities. Specific engineering treatments that improve pedestrian and bicycle safety include sidewalks, median islands, curb extensions, rectangular rapid flashing beacons, bicycle lanes, and lower speed limits. A more complete discussion of these engineering treatments is available on the Facility Design page. The paragraphs below address common engineering issues and strategies related to university campus environments.

Implementing engineering safety treatments in a university environment requires understanding which agencies are responsible for maintaining roadways, sidewalks, traffic signals, and other public spaces within and around the campus. It is common for different agencies to be in charge of different parts of the transportation system around a campus. In some communities, universities are responsible for roadways and other public spaces within the campus boundary but local municipalities manage roadways surrounding the campus. In other communities, the local municipality may be responsible for all roadways passing through and around campus (including pedestrian and bicycle crossings of these roadways) but not have control over pathways between campus buildings. Therefore, pedestrian and bicycle engineering improvements often require coordination between the university and the surrounding jurisdiction.

Pedestrians and bicyclists have distinct needs, and the facility designs for each mode should be considered separately. However, these modes often share the same environment on campuses, so campus spaces need to be designed to balance the safety, comfort, and efficiency of both types of travelers. Well-designed facilities have characteristics that reduce conflicts between pedestrians and bicyclists, such as parts of pathways clearly designated for pedestrian-only and bicycle-only use and slow-bicycle speeds on shared-use pathways and in shared-use zones.

Pedestrian Engineering Strategies

Pedestrian crossing at the boundary of the University of California, Berkeley

Pedestrian crossing at the boundary of the University of California, Berkeley.
Photo by Robert J. Schneider

The core areas of many university campuses are pedestrian-friendly public spaces. Some of these spaces are pedestrian and bicycle streets with limited or no automobile access. Other spaces are lawns or quads that are used by people to study, recreate, socialize, and relax. It is essential keep pedestrian crash risk within and near these areas low to maintain the attractiveness of these areas. Rodriguez-Seda (2008) suggests that while pedestrian-only zones can improve safety and aesthetics on campus, they may increase traffic congestion on streets bounding the campus and make those streets more difficult for pedestrians and bicyclists to cross.

Pedestrian travel is the dominant form of travel between buildings on many campuses. Therefore, many universities provide wide sidewalks to serve the high volumes of pedestrian activity that occur at certain times of day, especially when class periods change. Since pedestrians often seek the shortest path between their trip origin and destination, some walk across grass or landscaping rather than use existing sidewalks. Some campuses, such as Colorado University, Boulder, use the dirt or mud paths that are created by this behavior to identify locations for new sidewalk segments.

Most universities stress improving the safety of pedestrian crossings in the campus area. Pedestrian crossings of roadways on the boundary of campuses can be particularly challenging, since they may have high automobile volumes and high travel speeds. Universities recommend a variety of pedestrian crossing treatments, such as median islands, curb extensions, and flashing beacons for these busy roadway corridors. Designing roads for low-speed automobile travel is also important for pedestrian crossings, since drivers are more likely to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks when traveling at lower-speeds. Further, pedestrian injuries tend to be less severe when collisions occur at lower speeds (Grembek et al., 2014). The University of California, Berkeley and Washington State University seek to reduce automobile speeds near campus.

Pedestrian bridges or underpasses could be considered (Haineset et al., 1974; Guyton 1983; Benekohal et al., 2007; Rodriguez-Seda 2008), but these grade-separated structures are costly and may be much less direct than crossing a street at-grade. So pedestrians may still attempt to cross the roadway directly. If all pedestrian crossings are prohibited, the roadway may become a high-speed thoroughfare for vehicles, creating safety problems at other locations.

Bicycle Engineering Strategies

Many universities have recommended developing networks of bicycle facilities to improve bicycle access to campus. These systems are intended for bicyclists to travel throughout a campus area and to connect conveniently and safely to activity locations in the surrounding community. Most campus bicycle facility recommendations include both on- and off-road bicycle facilities. Specific facility types depend on the design of existing roadways and buildings in a particular bikeway network corridor.

Bicycle Roundabout at University of California, Davis

Bicycle Roundabout at University of California, Davis.
Photo by Robert J. Schneider

Campuses with very high bicycle volumes, such as the University of California, Davis, take advantage of special bicycle facilities. The campus has constructed bicycle roundabouts at several busy intersections for bicycling around campus, and the City of Davis has installed special bicycle traffic signals to give bicyclist their own phases at certain intersections.

Bicycle dismount zone at the University of California, Berkeley

Bicycle dismount zone at the University of California, Berkeley.
Photo by Robert J. Schneider

Some campuses designate specific dismount zones in areas with high levels of pedestrian activity to reduce potential conflicts between pedestrians and bicycles (e.g., Clemson University; University of California, Berkeley; University of Kentucky; University of Maryland; Washington State University). While this strategy can improve safety and comfort for pedestrians by requiring bicyclists to walk their bicycles, it can limit bicycle network connectivity through campus and make bicycling less convenient. Some universities only enforce dismount rules at particular times of day with high levels of pedestrian activity.

Bicycle parking at the University of California, Berkeley

Bicycle parking at the University of California, Berkeley.
Photo by Robert J. Schneider

Convenient, secure bicycle parking is needed to serve the many people who access campus by bicycle. Universities, such as the University of California, Davis have bicycle parking close to the entrance of nearly every academic building, dorm, and other activity center in the campus area. Other campuses with high rates of bicycle commuting also provide large amounts of bicycle parking, including sheltered parking and bike stations (with storage and repair services). Yale University recommends converting some on-street parking spaces into in-street bicycle corrals. Corrals can store approximately 10 bicycles in the same amount of space as a single automobile.

Other Engineering Strategies

Some campuses, such as Cornell University, have recommended installing new lighting to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety at night. This includes providing more lights along pathways and sidewalks on campus. Importantly, it also includes better lighting on the approaches to intersections and other places where pedestrians and bicyclists cross roadways.

Universities have also used roadway design features to create a unique sense of place within campus areas. Some universities post attention-grabbing signage at all main vehicular gateways to campus and post special educational signs and markings for pedestrians and bicyclists (Benekohal et al., 2007; Guyton 1983; Haines et al., 1974; Zegeer et al., 2002). Similarly, intersections and midblock crosswalks have been designed with distinct textures and colors to remind motorists that they are in a campus setting (Benekohal et al., 2007; Rodriguez-Seda 2008; Zegeer et al., 2002).

The PBIC Summary of Campus Pedestrian and Bicycle Plans and Studies spreadsheet provides more details about which universities have recommended these specific strategies.

Go to Campus Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Plans and Policies