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Gambier prioritizes pedestrian safety with new sidewalks

Gambier prioritizes pedestrian safety with new sidewalks

The Rothenberg Hillel House is one of the sites of the new sidewalks. | COURTESY OF KENYON COLLEGE HILLEL

Students on nightly strolls by Ward Street and Kokosing Drive may notice something different this semester: newly paved sidewalks. The construction on these sidewalks, completed just prior to move-in day, is just one of Gambier’s infrastructure changes aimed at improving safety and walking conditions for pedestrians throughout the Village. 

Pedestrian safety has been a priority for the Village for several years, although budgetary restrictions often made it difficult to begin large infrastructure projects. “Usually, the Council has to decide [whether] we have enough money to either repave the street, or whether we have enough money for sidewalks,” Gambier Mayor Leeman Kessler ’04 said in an interview with the Collegian. “This year, we said sidewalks!” 

The locations of the new sidewalks were determined by the volume of requests from Village Council members in cooperation with the College. The Council also evaluated areas of high pedestrian traffic where safety could be improved by giving pedestrians a walking location other than the street. Village Council discussed requests for sidewalks along Ward Street as recently as April. Various requests in the past for improved pedestrian safety have been along Duff Street, where the Lowry Center is, and the hill by Wiggin Street, which leads down to the Brown Family Environmental Center (BFEC). Both requests address locations where Kessler and the Council hope to increase safety in the future. 

“Road safety and pedestrian safety is a huge issue,” Kessler said. “Both the College and the Village are very interested in the idea of this being a walking campus, a walking Village, a pedestrian-friendly Village.” 

The new sidewalks on Ward Street and Kokosing Drive begin at the Rothenberg Hillel House, where the previous sidewalks ended, and loop around to where Kokosing Drive meets Chase Avenue. Previously, there were no walkways in the area, forcing pedestrians to walk either in the grass or on the road, which Council members noted as a consistent safety concern, particularly at night. 

Construction on the sidewalks was completed during move-in week, later than Kessler had intended. Despite the delays, he was positive that it had little impact on students moving in. “We had our fingers crossed that it wasn’t going to be a massive snarl,” Kessler said. “I think it hit right at the perfect moment.” 

Beyond sidewalk construction, the Village has numerous infrastructure changes planned for the future. Construction on a roundabout at the intersection of state Route  229 and state Route 308 (Wiggin Street) will begin in June 2024, as soon as Reunion Weekend is finished, and will continue through Oct. 2024. 

In addition to proposed construction on the roundabout, the Village hopes to construct sidewalks on the hill leading down from Wiggin Street to improve pedestrian safety. Currently, students aiming to get to the BFEC, which lies just past the intersection, have to walk either in the street or in ditches on the side of the road. Kessler hopes that sidewalks will make the area safer for both students and drivers. 

Kessler emphasized that while future infrastructure projects like the roundabout will disrupt traffic and the Kenyon community at large, the end goal is ensuring the safety of pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers. 

“The Village is really prioritizing safety [and] prioritizing accessibility,” Kessler said. “We’ve got a lot of interest in encouraging pedestrians and encouraging walking throughout the Village, and trying to make sure that we are able to share the spaces with everyone.”

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