I was 20 minutes late to my first class this semester, thank you for asking.
I had heard about the closures. I had heard about the long lines of cars, so I left even earlier than I usually did last year. I drove around for 30 minutes in the morose parade of cars that haunted campus this week, the long line moving at speeds ranging between zero and six miles an hour. I then walked another solid 15 minutes from my spot. That is a 45 minute commute time, and I live 1.4 miles away from the center of the Drill Field.
I mean, seriously, whose idea was this? Do not tell me, “It was Parking and Transit Services.” I mean, I want the first and last name of whoever put “close all the roads except the perimeter” on the whiteboard during this think-tank. I want to write them a letter.
I take no issue with the concept of overhauling the way the campus flows; this is not the first time I have rambled on about campus movement logistics in The Reflector, nor the first time I have taken a half page to complain about the challenges of the Mississippi pedestrian. Just like you, I am a pedestrian myself.
Even before the road closures, it took me twice as long to walk to class from my parking lot than it did to drive to that parking lot, and I assume most of you share a similar daily trek. Thousands of young adults wade through campus with 90 degree, 85% humidity air multiple times a day, five days a week. Compared to Mississippi towns without colleges in them, our Apple Watch step total must look like a misprint in a sea of half-finished circles.
Yes, we have a lot of pedestrians. Yes, I would like them all to be safe. No, that does not make me feel better about the road closures.
In hindsight, it feels like MSU has been flirting with a big change like this for a while.
Late September of last year, a student was struck coming out of the band hall on Hardy Road while walking in a crosswalk. According to Heather Harrison for The Reflector, the victim was some 50 feet away from the crosswalk after the collision. Amazingly, they were not seriously injured by that toss, reporting no broken bones.
Unfortunately for the school, according to the National Highway Traffic Association, October is the ever-popular Pedestrian Safety Month. MSU had already prepared the “Look Up, Look Out” campaign prior to the incident, which they debuted on Oct. 1 to a critical online reception. Students were quick to call the post tone deaf and said it placed the blame on the pedestrian so recently after the accident.
The school put a blinking crosswalk sign at the intersection where the student was hit. They put textured stops in front of the crosswalks, alerting pedestrians to look up from their phones. They put speed bumps on Stone and Hardy Boulevard, and when people started driving into the painted medians to avoid them, MSU put bumps in the medians, too.
These are Band-Aid solutions, and I think we all knew, deep down, MSU was quietly working on some dramatic, systemic adjustment while we were away. The school had recently opened the new Bulldog Way. More roads was a good start. I figured, at least, it would be challenging to make it worse.
Mississippi State is always up for a challenge.
According to the Office of Public Affairs' email about the road closures, the changes aim at “expanding the pedestrian core of campus in line with the university’s master plan.” As ever, the words “master plan” beg innumerable questions, but I will leave you to think of your own conspiracies.
The closure of one of the only major arteries that ran through campus is either premature or grossly shortsighted. The campus is trying to support the same amount of cars as last year, which was already more than it could handle, but now with two fewer major campus pathways. Now, it takes longer to get anywhere on campus.
It is challenging to view these shifts as anything other than an overreaction to bad press. In the same press release email, Jeremiah Dumas, MSU’s Director of Transportation, said the changes will greatly enhance pedestrian and bike safety, while keeping with the plan to “create a more pedestrian-friendly center of campus.” Expanding the pedestrian core accomplishes little of what phases pedestrians here. The football stadium without an underpass phases pedestrians. The distance between most dorms and the center of campus phases pedestrians. I already had the right of way in the crosswalks.
The roads are just closed. Not temporarily, and not for construction; students just do not have access to them anymore. This does not read to me as a "Master Plan." It feels more like a one-step plan, and they really hope we figure all this traffic business out. Then in 10 or 20 years, MSU can look at all the ways campus has slowly expanded and stubbornly changed and announce that it was part of the master plan all along.
I will not be here in 10 or 20 years. I am a pedestrian here, now. I am a pedestrian in a pedestrian-friendly space, and that is nice. But, I am also a pedestrian who gets out of my car irritated and late, only to arrive to my first class of the semester— full of pedestrians who walked though the pedestrian friendly core to get to this class— and find them also all complaining about the road closures.