In May, as Waco's longstanding I-35 pedestrian bridge — which connected Baylor University with the city's downtown — was torn down, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) was prepared. The agency had already begun implementing Be Safe Be Seen, a pedestrian and bicycle safety initiative that (in this case) focuses on keeping Baylor University students and all pedestrians and bicyclists in the construction area safe.
"Having to remove the 53-year-old pedestrian bridge to make room for the new and improved I-35 was a big deal for TxDOT and those students who relied on a quick walk or bicycle ride from campus to the adjoining restaurants and other downtown activities," Ken Roberts, TxDOT's Waco District Public Information Officer, acknowledges. "We wanted to take a proactive role in ensuring that everyone is aware of the dangers of walking or bicycling near the construction zone."
The pedestrian bridge was built in 1966 near 8th Street, long before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements went into effect. Another pedestrian bridge will not take its place, mainly because the ADA requirements make it unfeasible in the space available.
Roberts says there have been a few cases of Baylor summer students attempting to walk across the interstate since the bridge came down. "Crossing the interstate on foot is never a good idea, but now with all the heavy equipment operating twenty-four hours a day, every day, the danger has increased significantly," he says.
Part of the Be Safe Be Seen message is to make sure everyone knows that other crossings are available, including those at Fourth and Fifth Streets and at University Parks Drive. As part of the reconstruction project, lanes will be widened along the frontage roads and at intersections to accommodate bicycles, and crosswalks will be added to each of the crossings. Safety lighting will be installed under the I-35 overpasses.
"We met with representatives of the City of Waco, the Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Waco Chamber of Commerce, various advocacy groups and, of course, Baylor University to get the message out about the ways to prevent and reduce pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and fatalities," Roberts says. He adds that area businesses were also contacted, and many of them are posting information about the initiative on their premises and through their social media channels, like Facebook. "Everyone seems to be onboard with this program—it's truly a community effort."
Pedestrian crashes have been on the rise across the state and nation over the last 10 years, with fatalities rising nearly 30 percent. "Luckily, the Waco area has not experienced an increase like other major metropolitan areas," Roberts points out. "But with the I-35 reconstruction project so close to Baylor University, we're doing everything in our power to make sure it does not become a problem."
I-35 Public Information Officer