As a campus safety officer and crossing guard at Dickinson College, Rob Stone said he has seen just about everything.
Drivers tell him he blends in with the background on the street despite his fluorescent yellow jacket and equally bright gloves.
He yells to alert students who start to walk right into the street because they are looking at their cellphones rather than their surroundings.
Then, there was the time he signaled a driver to stop. The driver went right through his hand signal and Stone said he could see the driver looking at a cellphone. Seconds later, the driver plowed into the back of another car at the intersection of Louther and North College streets.
The story has a twist of irony: It turns out the driver was talking on the phone to the driver of the car he hit, Stone said.
Pedestrians in and around Dickinson College factor into the flow of traffic on the west end of Carlisle and issues experienced there are duplicated around town with other members of the community.
Crossing the street
George Stroud, vice president for student life and dean of students at Dickinson College, said safety is a “huge concern” on a campus bordered by main streets.
Dickinson College is surrounded or intersected by one railroad track and seven roads, including the always busy West High Street. The campus features five designated crosswalks across High Street (three), North College Street and North West Street in the borough.
The opportunities for a pedestrian to cross a borough street are numerous.
“There are a number of ways that we reach out to students to try to get them to understand the community that they’re in and understand that this is a unique campus. I would say, that means you have to cross over the roadways,” he said.
In 2011, the college approved the addition of a crossing guard to the West High Street crosswalk that connects the Benjamin Rush campus to the quadrant of the campus that includes the Holland Union Building, the library and other facilities. At the time, a crossing guard was already in place on North College Street at the crosswalk between the HUB and academic buildings.
Though it’s common for people to think crossing guards are positioned to help the students cross the street, that’s not entirely the case.
There are rush hours, so to speak, during which large numbers of students cross the streets at the same time, especially on North College Street. One of the busiest times comes around lunch between 11:45 a.m. and 1 p.m. when students cross from classrooms to the cafeteria.
“The purpose of those crossing guards is to help traffic flow and also to help our students cross over at those peak times,” Stroud said.
To keep students and cars flowing, Stone said he will stop the traffic to allow large groups of students to cross North College Street only so long as traffic is not backed up to High Street. Then, he will hold up the students to clear out the traffic.
Over the years, students have been hit by drivers.
In 2008, a Marysville man hit a prospective Dickinson student while she was in a crosswalk. He was given a 13-month to five-year sentence in county prison after pleading guilty to aggravated assault by vehicle while driving under the influence.
In 2011, a driver hit a student while she ran to catch up with friends. Police reported at the time that she was not in the crosswalk and was wearing dark clothes. She was treated for abrasions.
The second incident hits upon safety issues that Stone sees in connection with the new dormitory that opened last fall along High Street. He said students dressed in dark clothes are cutting across the street right outside of the dorm rather than going half a block east to the crosswalk or heading west to the signalized intersection at Cherry Street.
“You’re going out where no one is expecting you to come out and you’re in dark clothes and you’re not looking,” he said.
What Stone sees in the middle of High Street among college students, Sgt. David Miller of the Carlisle Police Department sees in the multiple pedestrian crashes the borough deals with each year.
“Every one of the pedestrian accidents I’ve seen were entirely avoidable based on conditions that already existed,” he said.
In some cases, the pedestrian didn't look, didn't cross at the crosswalk or didn't watch for the crossing light at a signalized intersection. In others, the drivers did not look for pedestrians.
Matthew Frampton of South Central PA Highway Safety said pedestrians should cross only at designated crosswalks and cross with the signal. He also recommended making eye contact with drivers, wearing bright clothing and taking children's hands when crossing. Pedestrians should also walk defensively, acting as if drivers will not be able to see them.
“You can’t trust that vehicle to stop because even if you’re right, you’re going to lose," he said. "That’s the attitude pedestrians and bicyclists need to have. Do they have a right to the roadway? Yes, but they need to ride defensively."
Dickinson College senior Rowan Humphries said she feels generally safe walking in and around Carlisle, though there have been a few times when she was "cat-called" by men in cars as she crossed a street at an intersection.
"I've also been yelled at twice in the past week by people attempting to turn right when I have the right of way," she said.
"Usually people around the town stop pretty easily," said Hannah Brenner, a freshman, adding that when there is a problem, it's because they just don't see the students.
Distraction is also a key issue for pedestrians and drivers.
“This is the day and age in which a lot of students are on devices and walking around. We make sure that students are aware, as they are approaching a crosswalk, to make sure that they are alert and look both ways before they cross,” Stroud said.
Stone said phones are the biggest distraction he sees among students and drivers.
“Some of them do the same thing as the kids. I don’t know how many I see on their phone,” he said.
Stroud said efforts to educate students about pedestrian safety begin at orientation for new students and continue through forums in which safety is discussed and periodic reminders about safety.
“We need to continue to inform our students that they need to be aware that when you’re crossing a street there are cars that are going to be coming by and to be alert. But also working with the community and making sure that they’re aware that there are students," he said.
Freshman Elizabeth Webber doesn't find it difficult at all to cross the street, and hasn't noticed any problems.
"We did get an email a little while back that was warning us. They said sometimes the cars don't always stop, and there are a few incidents, but I haven't noticed anything," she said.
Humphries said the email included best practices for crossing streets, which included such advice as making sure to use the pedestrian crosswalks.
Humphries knows the streets can get backed up because of student traffic, but asked for cooperation from drivers.
"I'd advise people driving through the area to seek different routes if they are in a rush, and to be patient with the students," she said.
"When we’re in session, there are more students who are around so just to be alert when you’re driving on the roadways that are close to our campus, to be alert that there will be higher foot traffic crossing the roads," Stroud said.
“If everyone just pays attention, everyone will be OK,” Stone said.