UCCS and city officials encourage safe driving following recent fatal accident

On March 1, motorcyclist Joseph Heath died from crashing into an SUV after running a red light near UCCS, becoming the seventh fatal accident at an intersection between Austin Bluffs and the entrances to UCCS since 2016.

According to crash data from the Colorado Springs Police Department, the city has responded to approximately 132 crashes at or close to the main campus entrances that intersect with Austin Bluffs.

The UCCS Police Department and Colorado Springs city officials think students, staff and faculty can make navigating around the campus safer by driving responsibly and walking mindfully, which they said is the key to reducing the number of accidents on and around campus.

Todd Frisbie, a traffic engineer for the city, said that this is especially important on Austin Bluffs due to how the road is designed.

UCCS sits on a hill next to Austin Bluffs, a winding three-lane parkway with a speed limit of 40 mph. Austin Bluffs intersects with the three main entrances to the main campus.

According to Frisbie, frequent crashes happen on Austin Bluffs because of its high speed limit, number of lanes, traffic level and human error. He added that the steepness of the road, or grade, may also contribute to the number of crashes.

132 UCCS entrance-related crashes between Jan. 4, 2016, and Jan. 30, 2024. Infographic by Raven Sanchez.

Most UCCS students commute to campus. Jenna Press, the assistant director of communications, wrote via email that approximately 88% of UCCS students live off campus.

Junior math major Mark Stevenson is one of these students and was in a T-bone style collision in which he was hit while making a left turn onto Clyde Way.

He thinks that people driving really fast on Austin Bluffs, slow traffic signals and difficulty seeing over hills and around medians are the biggest causes of accidents near the UCCS entrances. “The lights and the turns are just not very conducive to making transportation safe,” he said.

Stevenson encourages people to act with extra caution when crossing or driving on Austin Bluffs. He lives close to campus and sees road-closing crashes happen often. “I can think of twice already this year where the entirety of Austin Bluffs has been shut down because of a really bad accident,” he said.

Some of these accidents have involved pedestrians crossing the road. In an accident that happened in 2017, a 19-year-old UCCS student was killed in a hit-and-run crash when they legally crossed Austin Bluffs.

Frisbie and UCCS Chief of Police Dewayne McCarver said that pedestrians and drivers can lessen the likelihood of an accident happening by paying extra attention to their surroundings.

McCarver specifically said that staying off technology when driving or walking through crosswalks ensures safety and also encouraged anyone driving to campus to monitor their speed.

“The faster they are going, the less likely it is that they will have time to stop if a pedestrian walks out in front of them,” he wrote via email.

Frisbie suggested that pedestrians use the crosswalk buttons whenever they are available to cross the street safely.

The city is monitoring Austin Bluffs to look for ways to make it safer and is considering a few changes to the traffic signal at the intersection of Meadow Lane and Austin Bluffs that might help reduce accidents in that area. Frisbie noted that the modifications will impact how the city operates that signal and “provide some additional protection for pedestrians crossing Austin Bluffs.”

The power to change traffic safety infrastructure lies in the hands of the city. The university can communicate with the city about any traffic safety concerns, but these changes require approval and funding, either from the university or the city depending on the project.

If UCCS were to determine that infrastructure-related changes need to take place on Austin Bluffs, they would have to get approval for their ideas and provide funding to the city. “The road is ours, so if there is a safety issue at the intersection, the city would be responsible for making those changes,” Frisbie said.

The campus police department is working to reduce unsafe driving by holding students accountable and continuing to enforce campus safety policies. McCarver hopes that UCCS can continue working together as a community to make driving to campus as safe as possible.

Anyone who sees any suspicious or unsafe on-campus activity can contact the UCCS Police by calling them at 719-255-3111 or using the SAFE app. Concerned UCCS community members are also encouraged to discreetly videotape or photograph any suspicious activity to send to police.

People who see accidents or other road problems on Austin Bluffs, around campus or anywhere in Colorado Springs, can visit the city’s GoCOS webpage or download the app to report the incident.

Traffic passes through the Austin Bluffs Parkway and Meadow Lane intersection. Photo by Lillian Davis.