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Speaking Out

Traffic Safety Concerns

The UP Police Department’s Chief Mark Dorsey correctly says that his Department has been very active in improving traffic conditions and increasing safety in our Campus area. Traffic safety on our streets and pedestrian walks is much better now than only a few years ago. On the serious problem of pedestrian crossing on Convention Avenue between SEPTA’s University City Regional Rail Station and the Campus, however, the explanation of reasons he quotes from somebody in the City’s Streets Department is technically incorrect and illogical, and it creates a very hazardous situation.

In numerous studies of traffic conditions in the Campus area we in the School of Engineering have done, we have found that the curve on Convention Avenue does not impede visibility of drivers of the area at SEPTA’s station; to the contrary, it actually forces drivers to approach that area at low speeds.

The reason quoted against a crossing is that such a crossing would be hazardous. Since pedestrians do not have any other option to cross the street, they cross it without any protection. Using the claim that the crossing is dangerous as an argument not to provide any protection defies logic.

The condition at that location is nothing short of scandalous. Ever since the station was opened and began to attract over 3,000 passenger trips per day, all persons who go to the medical complex must cross the street where the signs show “Do not cross” and give no  alternative. SEPTA’s counts show that on every weekday over 1,000 pedestrians cross under such conditions. Any accident could bring a challenge to the responsibility of the City and the University for such mistreatment of pedestrians.

I am inviting Chief Dorsey to support our Transportation Coordinating Committee in our request from the City that this problem be solved. There are several technical  designs  for a safe pedestrian crossing and there is no problem in implementing one of them.

—Vukan R. Vuchic
UPS Foundation Professor of
Transportation Engineering, SEAS

Response from UPPD

The University of Pennsylvania Police Department is an active participant of the University of Pennsylvania Transportation Safety Group of which Dr. Vuchic is also a member. This group has agreed in past meetings that the existing conditions, such as an extreme left turn for vehicles traveling east bound on Convention Avenue, present a risk factor for establishing a cross walk in front of the SEPTA station.

The City of Philadelphia Traffic Engineers Department has requested that the University submit plans for a mid-block crosswalk at 34th and Smith Walk (34th Street between Spruce and Walnut Street). Dr. Vuchic’s graduate students with expertise in traffic engineering are actively involved in this plan which will eventually be submitted to the City of Philadelphia for approval. Should this plan be implemented and prove successful, it could become a benchmark cross walk for mid-block crossing in other areas of the University.

Future opportunities to address proposals for a mid-block cross walk in the area of the SEPTA train station could occur during the anticipated closure and subsequent construction of the South Street bridge, or when roadways are altered due to development of the University of Pennsylvania Health System’s new Center for Advanced Medicine.

We look forward to working with all members of the University of Pennsylvania Transportation Safety Group to find solutions to traffic and safety challenges affecting the Penn community.

—Mark Dorsey, UPPD Chief of Police

Reconciling Total Compensation

I examined the “Your Total Compensation” personalized letter/circular from our Human Resources Division. It would be more useful if the numbers are reported for the previous fiscal year as well as the previous calendar year.  Pay and benefits both change on July 1. The current reporting practice makes it quite challenging to reconcile the numbers from the various University sources.

Further, at the bottom of page 2 “Life-to-date-contributions made from the late 1970s through December 31, 2006.”  The total contributions are reported to the cent, or one part in 10 million, while the year is reported to 2 parts per 1000. Why is the date not more precise?

This is an example of detailed disclosure with limited utility. The staff at Penn should be required to fulfill our “quantitative reasoning” requirement. Or, is this confusion in the guise of information?

       —Ponzy Lu, Professor of Chemistry


Response from HR

Thank you very much for your feedback on the Total Compensation Summary.

Its design and distribution was encouraged and supported by the Personnel Benefits Committee of the University Council, and to date we’ve received a tremendously positive response from faculty and staff.

We explored alternative data timeframes when designing this statement, and determined that a calendar year summary is most useful, since the faculty/staff and University contribution numbers tie to the December paycheck or advice.

With regards to data precision, virtually every personnel/payroll system maintains all dollar figures to 2 decimal (cents) precision.  We agree that over many years, the cents may appear less meaningful.  But as Penn’s founder Ben Franklin said, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

We continue to look for ways to inform our faculty and staff about the multitude of benefits Penn provides to our diverse community.  We’ll consider your feedback for future renditions of this document. 

—John J. Heuer,
Vice President for Human Resources

Fire Safety

You never seem to forget that feeling. I’m talking about the feeling of walking through a burned out dwelling after a fire. It’s an eerie feeling that chills your bones.There’s a dark, damp and cold stench that gets into your pores and up your nose. It’s a stench that you don’t readily forget. It’s a stench of destruction and, sometimes, death.

I’ve experienced that eerie, burned out dwelling feeling many times in my life because I fought fires in the City of Philadelphia for 23 years. In my last six years as an employee of Fire and Emergency Services at Penn, happily, I’ve had almost no chance to experience that same feeling, but it came back to me rather quickly on the morning of March 3. A fire occurred at 4042 Sansom Street at 3:34 a.m. that Friday morning. It was fire that sent six Penn students and a student visiting from Bryn Mawr College to the hospital. It was a fire that caused some students to jump from windows and two of the students to be rescued by the Philadelphia Fire Department from a third floor window using a 35-foot ladder. It was a fire where the student occupants narrowly escaped death. It was a fire that altered lives. It was a fire that left tons of destruction. It was a fire that could happen to you.  

Most fire deaths are not caused by burns. Victims in residential fires are usually asleep. Because of the accumulation of carbon monoxide produced by incomplete combustion, the occupants never wake from their sleep. They die because of carbon monoxide poisoning. That is why I say smoke detection is vital to a plan to get up. Smoke detection is the catalyst that promotes notification of occupants.

Fire protection reliability is the biggest part of my work life. Actually, I’m obsessed with ensuring reliability. My colleagues and I in Fire and Emergency Services work tirelessly to ensure the fire protection on campus will work every time it is needed.

Sprinkler systems are like putting a firefighter in every area of a building. When the temperature of a sprinkler head reaches 155 degrees Fahrenheit, the sprinkler head activates allowing ample amount of water to enter the space to control the fire by absorbing the heat from the fire. Unlike the scenes that you see in movies, all of the sprinkler heads don’t operate at once, only the one or two closest to the fire.

When I am asked to deliver a presentation about evacuation from a building, I always start by shouting, “Get Up!  Get Out! Account! Survive!”  Those words are simple words with a powerful meaning in time of crisis. Make sure that being prepared to respond to any type of emergency that occurs in the buildings you live in, work in, or visit is one of those lessons you take from here.

—Eugene Janda, Deputy Fire Chief,
Fire and Emergency Services,
Division of Public Safety

Speaking Out welcomes reader contributions. Short, timely letters on University issues will be accepted by Thursday at noon for the following Tuesday’s issue, subject to right-of-reply guidelines. Advance notice of intention to submit is appreciated. —Eds.



  Almanac, Vol. 52, No. 27, March 28, 2006


March 28, 2006
Volume 52 Number 27


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