This is Road Scholar country now

Public safety campaign encourages smart pedestrian, cycling behavior

Look both ways before crossing the street. Don't cross against the light. Obey traffic laws. And, puh-leeze, put down your iPhone.

Those guidelines sound simple enough, but accidents around the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus have led the university, in partnership with student groups, to take a different approach to pedestrian and bicycle safety.

"After four serious accidents in the last two years, we knew we had to think outside the box," says President Ron Daniels. "So, in addition to better safety engineering and stronger enforcement, we've launched a creative and wide-reaching communications campaign designed not just to increase awareness but also to change behavior."

The public safety campaign, which encourages smart pedestrian and cycling behavior, was dubbed Road Scholar. It launches in September with a display of 3,000 painted shoes installed on the fence surrounding the university's undeveloped property at St. Paul and 33rd streets. The shoes represent the nearly 3,000 people hit by vehicles every year in Maryland; more than 100 of those accidents are fatal.

"We don't want any of our students or community members following in their footsteps," Daniels says.

The shoes were collected over the summer in bins around the Homewood campus and other Johns Hopkins locations, and a portion obtained through Goodwill Industries. They were then painted throughout August in the basement of the Wyman Park Building.

The university's Office of Communications, in conjunction with the Student Government Association, drove the creative concept and execution of the Road Scholar initiative. Included in the program are sidewalk graphics located on busy walkways throughout campus, as well as ads and signage in highly visible locations. Messages are aimed at eliminating distractions, such as earbuds and texting devices, while on the go.

Some additional messaging, such as graphics on university buses and banners on the pedestrian bridge over San Martin Drive, will target drivers as well.

Student Government Association leaders, who consulted with the university on the campaign last spring, plan to spearhead several events focused on pedestrian safety throughout the academic year.

"The student body has experienced tragedy several times in the past few years," says SGA President Moses Song. "Yet, we still see a lack of awareness regarding pedestrian and bicycle safety at the Homewood campus and throughout the surrounding neighborhoods. SGA plans to focus efforts on heightening awareness in the hope of altering behavior so that students and local residents feel at home."

While pedestrian and bicycle safety has been a consistent focus for Johns Hopkins and all its urban campuses, new efforts were spurred by a number of serious pedestrian and bicycle collisions involving vehicles near the Homewood campus. Two students, Miriam Frankl and Nathan Krasnopoler, were fatally injured in 2009 and 2011, respectively.

In 2011, the university enlisted faculty from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Bloomberg School of Public Health to conduct a study and make recommendations for improving pedestrian and bicycle safety around the Homewood campus.

"Our report emphasized the three E's: education, enforcement, and engineering," says Keshia Pollack, an assistant professor in the Bloomberg School. "This strategy has been a part of other successful comprehensive programs to improve pedestrian safety."

The report recommended incorporating student input throughout the public safety campaign.

"We took the report's emphasis on student involvement to heart," says Daniel Ennis, senior vice president for finance and administration. "From the very beginning, we've hoped that this would be an opportunity for a peer-to-peer conversation about safety."

Ennis adds that Security and Facilities personnel have been engaged since last year in efforts to improve enforcement and roadway signage around the Homewood and East Baltimore campuses. This fall, a reconstruction project begins on Charles Street from 25th Street to University Parkway to improve traffic patterns and signage and increase pedestrian and bicycle safety. The $28 million project, led by the city's Department of Transportation, incorporates federal and local funds with a contribution from the university.

"Combined, these efforts have the potential to make a real impact on student and community safety," Ennis says. "But we all have to take responsibility. We all have to be Road Scholars."