Value People Before Cars

Perhaps you’ve noticed that the Brandeis Campus Police have been directing traffic at the crosswalks between the Rabb Steps and Usdan, and that they’re letting vehicle traffic move through while students walking must wait.  Well, my friend Matt told me he was writing an email to Ed Callahan, chief of police, so I wrote one too.  Here it is:

Dear Chief Callahan,

I am writing you in response to an observation I made recently where an officer was giving priority to automobiles over pedestrians at Rabb Steps.  I believe strongly that the presence of automobiles negatively effects the quality of life on campus, and a policy of prioritizing vehicle traffic before pedestrians contributes to this problem.  Making driving on campus more convenient encourages more students to use their automobiles rather than walk and bike, which are much healthier options.  I have also observed police vehicles idling in the area at Rabb Steps, which with passing and idling vehicle traffic emit harmful emissions in an area with a high volume of pedestrian traffic.  I would like to remind you that unnecessary idling over five minutes is prohibited by Massachusetts law and by MassDEP regulations.

The current Brandeis Master Plan, established in 2001, calls for reduced vehicular traffic.  The document defining the plan’s scope lists “Reduction of vehicular encroachment into pedestrian areas” and “Separation of pedestrian and vehicular circulation” as major goals and objectives.  The plan itself envisions closing the area between Usdan and the North (Mandel) Academic Quad to vehicular thru traffic.  While the University has improved conditions for pedestrians on South Campus with a new link in the Brandeis Walk, policies toward traffic at Rabb Steps work against the goals of a healthier, more beautiful, and more sustainable campus.  I urge you to put people first, supporting safe and efficient traffic flow at Rabb Steps by prioritizing pedestrian traffic when an officer is present in the short-term and advocating for pedestrianization of the Brandeis Loop at Rabb steps in the mid- to long-term.

I appreciate your attention in this matter.

Most Sincerely,

Philip LaCombe

I can understand why the police have set up camp there.  Traffic can get backed up pretty far during the 10 minutes between classes.  There’s even a lot of idling caused because of it.  Really, neither the status quo nor the traffic direction works.  Both are harmful for the environment.  The thing is, we shouldn’t be encouraging more driving.  It’s bad enough that we have so many cars on campus, and that some people drive to class even with the inconvenience at that crossing.  What’s the alternative?  Pedestrianization.  Cut the loop road so that the furthest you can get is to the parking lot behind North Quad.  Here’s a drawing from the campus master plan of what it might look like:

Nice, huh?  Imagine the possibilities…  that portion of the loop road could become a plaza for all sorts of activities.  Hanging out, tabling, eating, people-watching…  it would be a great public space, free of pollution and cars.  Emergency vehicles would still be able to get through, but it would be a place for people, not cars.


  • I am a sophomore at Brandeis University, originally from Wilbraham, Massachusetts. At Brandeis I have contributed to the activist community by serving as Campus Coordinator for Democracy for America, a student group that supports fiscally responsible, socially progressive candidates. I was also co-director for Brandeis Students for Barack Obama. After Brandeis, I will pursue a master's degree in urban planning.

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Author: Phil LaCombe

I am a sophomore at Brandeis University, originally from Wilbraham, Massachusetts. At Brandeis I have contributed to the activist community by serving as Campus Coordinator for Democracy for America, a student group that supports fiscally responsible, socially progressive candidates. I was also co-director for Brandeis Students for Barack Obama. After Brandeis, I will pursue a master's degree in urban planning.

10 thoughts on “Value People Before Cars”

  1. The institution of policemen aiding the flow of traffic – pedestrian and vehicular – precisely follows the master plan’s wording re: “separation of pedestrian and vehicular circulation”.

    The bike suggestion is a nice one, though as someone who bikes on campus – probably later into winter than many others – I have to say our infrastructure really is terrible. Beyond the potholes and street-wide speed bumps lining the ascent to Squire Bridge and up to the Castle and all the way around to the new pavement at ASAC…. The roads on campus simply aren’t wide enough for people and bikes: the turn by the library; the new rock installations down the main path. The new pavements in Admissions, the Castle path, the backside of the chapels, new Ridgewood paths, the walking path out the outer side of the new science complex– all are either poorly designed with regard to ramps or simply have no curb cuts at all.

    By the way, closing the loop road between wherever and wherever else won’t do much for bikes, either. “Never a way to win with you activists.”

  2. Bicycling is not a horrible mode of transport, but is madehorrible half if not more of each semester, by snow. No one should have to bike in the snow.
    Walking is great if you live <1mi from campus. Not all do. The bus again is not horrible, but will not take you everywhere. Remember-people with a car can not just get to campus, they can get anywhere in the area, except for the city. City+car=fail.

  3. People who choose to live off campus have several transportation options that are better for our environment and our community: the Waltham Van, the MBTA 553 bus, the Commuter Rail, bicycling, and walking. Private automobile usage should be a last resort.

  4. Um….ok? Some people don’t live on campus. Penalizing these people is much worse and less just than just than the marginal benefit to the ecosystem. That said, yes, in negotiating traffic exchanges, pedestrians deserve right of way.

  5. Have I misread something, or is the “one alternative” proposed by Dan in Comment #1 nearly identical to the master plan idea cited by Phil?

    I’m excited to see (any) interest in honoring the 2001 Master Plan. Other long-lost campus improvement ideas from that era include (a) designing a safer configuration of the roadways and crosswalks at the campus entrance, and (b) consolidating the scattered mini lots and on-street parking into several large facilities (an X Lot garage has been periodically discussed).


  6. I don’t know if you’ve ever been stuck behind the pedestrians at that cross walk like I have, but it’s miserable.

    See the problem with it is that you have no order in the manner in which people cross. Yes it’s a class change time; but at the same time, who is in those cars? Where are they going? Most likely they’re trying to get to the parking lot so they can get to work/class or they’re trying to leave to get somewhere. There is no reason to be backed up for long periods of time because you just have 1 person cross, then another, and while they’re going someone starts. In actuality, it’s more of a safety issue for the people crossing than it is trying to get the cars through first. They switch between the two. When you have a flock of students ready to cross, they’ll get to. In reality, they might wait 30 seconds while cars pass.

    I for one have been waiting for them to put someone there to order the traffic of pedestrians and vehicles. What happens when some nimwit just wants to get his car across so he goes really quickly trying to avoid that kid just getting in the cross walk but actually hits him? Yeah, then you’ll bitch about there not being a person controlling traffic. Never a way to win with you activists.

  7. Regardless of whether Phil’s idea to change the P-road is doable, I’m fully in support of his idea to “put people first” instead of allowing cars to take precedence at Rabb, especially during class-change times. Thanks for e-mailing Mr Callahan.

  8. Great post. I’m glad someone said something. What is even more concerning is that this is Massachusetts and here it is the law that traffic MUST yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk. I wish something could be done about the crystal shuttles that idle RIGHT next to the Rabb steps and not only block pedestrian traffic (due to the lack of sidewalk on the right hand side coming from the East Quad) but spew fumes everywhere right next to students.

  9. I think that’s a really interesting, and amazing idea, but I question the feasibility. In fact, placing the BUPD officer at Rabb steps is meant to make the crossing safer for pedestrians. There is a point, though, where vehicle traffic backs up to the castle, and the officers need to allow cars to move.

    BUPD and the university have already made enormous strides to make the campus more pedestrian friendly, but it seems your idea just isnt practical. One alternative, however, is to extend the loop road to be one way up the hill past H-lot, past Deroy, past the chapels, and past Heller/Brown/Schneidner/ASAC, up to tower lot (almost Mandel), then shut down the road past Usdan/North parking. The fact is, tower lot is a major, and important parking lot for faculty and staff, and needs to be maintained.
    Good Luck!


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