Holly Swanson: A Friendly Reminder to Students When Crossing College Avenue
September 05, 2012 6:49 AM
by Holly Swanson
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Dear students,

Welcome back! We (most of us) are excited to see you again. Even though your return means that we can no longer get into most of our favorite restaurants and the quick check out at Wegmans is no longer quick, you do bring a lot of great things to the area.

Your art exhibits, sporting events, and science workshops are a lot of fun and you don’t seem to mind when townies show up.

There is, however, a problem. You guys don’t know how to cross the street.

I don’t know how this happened. You are all obviously very smart (I know this as a fact since you are at Penn State instead of, say, Temple). You’ve also been walking for probably close to 18 years … 17 without holding on to a coffee table for balance. But there is something about the streets of State College that seem to make you want to run out into oncoming traffic.

My generation had it easier. We had a lot of pop culture references to walking that helped us out. Songs like Walking on Sunshine, Walk Like an Egyptian, the Aerosmith/Run-DMC Walk this Way collaboration, even the oddity Walk the Dinosaur kept foot mobility top-of-mind. When we went for a walk, we took our Walkmans with us, a gentle reminder of the reason we were outside in the first place.

When we were inside, we spent our free time playing Frogger (please look it up on Wikipedia. You’ll get a good laugh at what passed for entertainment in the 1980s). This was the first videogame for many of us, and it was designed with the specific goal of safely crossing the street. It doesn’t seem like much now compared to Wii games, but maybe we need a return to basics.

The problem seems to be that most of you aren’t just crossing the street. You’re facebooking, tweeting, texting, playing Cut the Rope, taking pictures, maybe even talking on the phone. Some of you are even studying from textbooks or Nittany Notes during your downtown commute.

Since you are looking down all the time, it’s probably difficult to pick up on visual cues like landmarks and street signs that let you know when it’s safe to cross. The creepy disembodied voice-prompts at some of the intersections may help, but I suspect your ear buds block out most of the noise.

I know you’re multitasking while you walk, but so are we behind the wheel. While we drive down College Avenue, we’re on the lookout for parking spaces, people randomly pulling out of said parking spaces, delivery trucks, CATA buses, and bicyclists all while yelling at our kids to be quiet, changing the channel on the radio, watching traffic lights, eating lunch, and (answering) ignoring our cell phones. It’s amazing that we don’t bump into you all more often.

Legally, vehicles have to stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk and when everyone plays fair, we’re happy to stop and let you cross. But here’s the thing—sometimes you cross against the walk sign or you step out between the cars or you just don’t look where you are going. It’s probably because you are looking at whatever handheld device you have at the moment.

Crossing the street, keeping yourself safe, and preventing moms in minivans from burning their children’s ears with the words we use when we almost hit someone, is as easy as black and white. When the ground is white, you are on a sidewalk and can keep walking. If you notice that the ground is black, please stop, look up, and proceed with caution when appropriate.

I almost hit two kids just researching this column. They were about to cross against the walk sign at Dunkin Donuts on West College Avenue as I was making a left turn onto South Fraser Street. One of them, realizing he was in danger of becoming a tortilla, waved me through. His not-so-smart friend went for it. My quick-like-lightning reflexes stopped the car in time, though I narrowly escaped getting crushed by the car behind me.

And when we do stop and let you cross, especially if we wave you through even though you are crossing against the light or in the middle of a block, please, I beg of you, at least smile and nod. Maybe even wave. It would do a lot to help town and gown relations. Ducking your head, rolling your eyes, or not acknowledging the driver at all drives us batty. Trust me.

And besides, nobody wants to see a foursquare update that you’ve become mayor of the coroner’s office.

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