A & E EDITOR
In a media release previewing the annual Omaha Health Summit, an increase in vehicle crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists was identified as a Health Disparity effecting Douglas County.
A total of four vehicle crashes involving bicyclists and 15 crashes involving pedestrians occurred in 2015, according to the Nebraska Bicycling Alliance.
The University of Nebraska at Omaha’s campus and surrounding business districts and parks are a high traffic area for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers alike. Stop signs at intersections, marked cross walks and speed bumps help keep pedestrians and bicyclists safe on campus.
The recent addition of a police department to UNO’s formerly security-only Public Safety Department has also improved the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists. Marked police cars will be working to enforce traffic laws, according to Police Sergeant Jerry Baguette.
“The roads that run through campus are state highways, so traffic laws can be enforced on them,” Baggett said.
Vehicles driving through campus can be pulled over for traffic violations, such as speeding, ignoring traffic signs and not yielding to pedestrians or bicyclists.
“It’s just like being pulled over by any other law enforcement officer in the state, however, because we’re a campus community, there are several things the officers can do keeping in mind we have security and police,” Baggett said. “The security officers will not be able to issue tickets, only the law enforcement officers.”
Baggett said it is up to the officer’s discretion to decide if they will issue a verbal warning, written warning or traffic citation.
As of Friday, Baggett said he didn’t think any traffic citations had been issued and estimated less than 10 traffic stops have been made.
“We’re trying to just inform the students, staff and people who just drive through campus that we’re enforcing traffic laws,” Baggett said. “With that, we’ve been giving verbal warnings so far.”
Baggett said the addition of the police department is part of the Public Safety Department’s natural progression.
“A part of any law enforcement job and authority is traffic enforcement,” Baggett said. “It has nothing to do with any accidents or incidents that occurred on campus. It’s just because of a blended force coming onto campus that it [increased traffic law regulation] occurred.”
Baggett credits the number of stop signs on campus and speed bumps preventing high speed traffic for helping to keep the UNO community safe from vehicle and pedestrian or bicyclist collisions.
UNO sophomore Mitch Jorgensen has witnessed first-hand how dangerous vehicles ignoring traffic laws can be in less pedestrian-friendly areas than UNO’s campus.
Jorgensen witnessed a near collision at an intersection in Elmwood Park between a pedestrian and vehicle.
“I was sitting and waiting to turn when I saw somebody turn left into somebody walking on the the crosswalk,” Jorgensen said.
“I think they just weren’t paying attention.”
Jorgensen the vehicle’s mirror appeared to clip the pedestrian. The man unsuccessfully tried to interact with the driver.
“They didn’t roll down the window or anything,” Jorgensen said. “They just sped away.”
The incident was reported to Public Safety. Jorgensen approves of the increased enforcement of traffic laws on campus.
“I think it sounds like a good thing,” Jorgensen said. “I’ve been walking around while people are driving like idiots, and there’s no one there to stop them.”
Baggett has several safety tips for pedestrians and bicyclists.
“Do not expect all vehicles to stop,” Baggett said. “It would be in their best benefit to make sure the vehicle stops before entering the cross walk.”
Baggett also stressed the importance of bicyclists being aware of their surroundings.
“The thing with bicycles, although they share and do have the same legal right to the rode as vehicles, there’s a lot of vehicles that do not give them that right or privilege,” Baggett said. “It’s important that they too watch what the vehicles are doing.”