Welch Avenue is crazy on most Thursday nights during the school year, especially on the first Thursday of every semester, when students usually have the lowest amount of homework and the highest amount of energy until after finals week.
Last Thursday, as bars prepared to close, mug night participants flowed out onto Welch Avenue. Everything probably seemed quite commonplace until they saw a pickup truck hit a man and then drive away.
The pedestrian who was hit was 22-year-old Shawn Molitor, who is currently in critical but stable condition at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines.
ISU Police later stopped a vehicle matching the description of the vehicle that hit Molitor. Police arrested and charged the driver of the vehicle, Jimmy Tyler Hatley, with serious injury by a vehicle, leaving the scene of a serious injury accident, operating while intoxicated and reckless driving.
Days after the accident, witnesses may still be trying to make sense of what happened. Many of them probably have questions about the accident. One of those questions may be: How can similar accidents be prevented in the future?
One possible suggestion is to turn Welch Avenue into a pedestrian-only street, taking a cue from Iowa City and its pedestrian (“ped”) mall.
At the annual joint meeting between the Government of the Student Body and the Ames City Council on Oct. 24, 2012, a GSB representative spoke about the possibility of turning Welch Avenue into a pedestrian-only street, to which City Manager Steve Schainker said it would be good for students but bad for businesses.
The group then discussed turning the street into a pedestrian-only street at certain hours of certain days. While that may help businesses warm up to the idea, the logistical difficulties of making Welch Avenue pedestrian-only would make it more trouble than it is worth.
For instance, how would one determine which hours of which days to make Welch Avenue pedestrian-only? Blocking the street off only on weekends would exclude pint night (Wednesday) and mug night (Thursday). Also, for Veishea, would the street have to be blocked off the entire week?
Furthermore, how would one decide where to end the pedestrian-only area? The 100 block of Welch Avenue is usually the busiest location in Campustown, but the 200 block and other adjacent streets get busy, too.
Then there is the fire station issue. The fire station, located on the corner of Welch and Chamberlain, has its driveway intersecting Welch. That area must be open for fire trucks to respond to emergencies. Would the fire station have to move if Welch became pedestrian-only?
At first glance, turning Welch Avenue into a pedestrian-only street may seem like it would be a good idea. After all, if no one can drive on the street, no one can be struck by a car on the street.
However, such a change would likely cost a lot of money and a lot of time. Moreover, it would be nothing more than a Band-Aid attempting to heal a much larger, more complex problem: people making unwise decisions while intoxicated.
In order to help prevent accidents between pedestrians and vehicles, on Welch Avenue or on any other street in the world, every person must take personal responsibility when drinking, making smart choices while intoxicated.
It’s not a quick, easy fix, but it’s the fix that will be the most effective.