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A More Accessible Greenville

The intersection of White Horse Road and SC 253 in Greenville County. / Nathan Gray

For years, Furman students have helped make Greenville, South Carolina, safer and more equitable for pedestrians, cyclists and public transit riders.

By Sarita Chourey, Jerry Salley ’90 and Tina Underwood

Lindsay Cribbs ’24

Lindsay Cribbs ’24 / Courtesy Photo

Crossing the street without fear of injury or death. Comfortably walking to a bus stop. And ultimately? Simply getting to the grocery store or your job.

For years, Furman students have worked to help make these seemingly simple but essential acts possible for thousands of people. 

Greenlink, Greenville’s public transit system, has hosted student fellows from Furman to assist with collecting and mapping field data that its staff did not have the capacity to gather.

The students’ work has made a difference. This data has informed decision-making processes, prioritization analyses and grant applications. And Furman students, in turn, have developed critical thinking, new skills and processes, and empathy for those who do not own personal vehicles.

“Greenlink also prides itself on the fellowship program experience it provides to students,” said Kayleigh Cleek, transit planning manager. “Greenlink staff cultivates a personalized experience for each individual – connecting them with community leaders, facility tours and relevant public engagement opportunities while ensuring access to pertinent training and workshops throughout their fellowship.”

The relationship ensures that fellows walk away with connections, resources and final work products to assist with their future professional endeavors.

Loise Aleria ’22

Loise Aleria ’22 / Courtesy Photo

“We are continually impressed with the students’ dedication and work ethic and look forward to future partnership opportunities,” Cleek added.

A New Lens

Zane Newell ’24, a sustainability science and Spanish double major, was The Shi Institute for Sustainable Communities’ Public Transit and Pedestrian Connectivity Fellow interning for Greenlink.

The internship hit closer to home when Newell realized that without Greenlink, many Furman staff members wouldn’t have a way to get to work. His inventory of sidewalk conditions and connectivity revealed large swaths of roadways where sidewalks don’t exist at all, such as along Poinsett Highway.

“That’s the main way staff are coming into Furman,” he said. Newell, who plans to enroll in a master’s program to study urban planning, said the study allowed him to view Greenville through an entirely new lens while sharpening his data collection and manipulation skills using mapping software. From start to finish, he designed what data would be collected, how it would be collected, and the way it would be synthesized and presented.

In 10 weeks, Newell:

  • crafted a database of more than 450 bus stops to record sidewalk connectivity, and
  • created an upgrade-priority program for the stops based on factors such as equity, safety and accessibility, including accommodation for wheelchair users, and
  • mapped Greenlink’s existing bus routes and made the map available to the public, and
  • conducted more than 200 in-person surveys of riders in English and Spanish to update ridership demographic data, an important component for securing grant funds.
Zane Newell ’24

Zane Newell ’24 / Courtesy Photo

“Everyone’s working very hard and juggling several projects at once,” he said of his work at Greenlink. “So, I don’t think anyone necessarily would have had the time to go and survey 450 bus stops.”

In 2019, Cleek worked with Natalie Anderson ’19 and Nate Bilodeau ’20 on a database to pinpoint bus stop upgrades, a project that led to nearly $6 million in federal funding to shore up compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Lifesaving Measures

As a high school student in Columbia, South Carolina, Lindsay Cribbs ’24 wished she could live in a more pedestrian- and bike-friendly city. So, she was excited to begin her first year at Furman.

“Coming to Greenville, I thought, ‘Wow, you can walk here, you can bike here,’” says Cribbs, an economics and sustainability science double major.

But she didn’t dare approach two traffic corridors not far from Furman on foot or on bike. Stretches of White Horse Road and Poinsett Highway are notoriously dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists, as work by Loise Aleria ’22, who interned with Bike Walk Greenville, had shown.

In her summer research project, “Creating a Safe Operating Space for Pedestrians and Cyclists in Greenville,” Cribbs – working with Suresh Muthukrishnan, professor and chair of the Department of Earth, Environmental, and Sustainability Sciences, and the nonprofit Bike Walk Greenville – built on Aleria’s work and used Furman’s Geographic Information System mapping resources and other transportation analytics to focus on making those corridors safer.

Between 2009 and 2019, pedestrian fatalities in South Carolina increased by 80%, and bicycle fatalities more than doubled across the state, according to the South Carolina Department of Transportation’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Action Plan. Several locations in Greenville County, including stretches of White Horse Road and Poinsett Highway, were identified as “high-crash roadway segments” in the action plan.

Many such corridors pass through communities where residents without personal vehicles must walk or cycle to get necessities. In one high-crash area, a half-mile segment of White Horse Road that contains one of the few grocery stores in the neighborhood within a Walmart Supercenter, 17 accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists occurred between 2015 and 2019, according to the action plan.

“It’s not always the leisure walker or recreational cyclist getting hurt,” Cribbs said. “It’s the person cycling or walking out of necessity for things that we would normally use a car for.”

Cribbs hopes her findings will increase our understanding of the challenges pedestrians and cyclists face and spread awareness of the need for safe roads and trails. In addition to improved sidewalks, crosswalks and bike lanes, solutions such as better lighting and highlighted warning signs “can make a whole lot of difference in the safety of vulnerable road users,” said Cribbs. After graduation, she will pursue a master’s degree in sustainability management at the Kogod School of Business at American University.

After Furman, Aleria graduated from the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Basic Officer Leader Course in 2023, and was stationed at Fort Cavazos, Texas, as the intelligence staff officer for the 91st Brigade Engineer Battalion.

While Aleria’s perspective is global these days – she hopes to work in international military affairs or military relations in Asian Pacific countries – her concern as a Furman student was for local safety.

At Furman, Aleria used images from Google maps and vehicle fatality reports and their location, and Smart Growth America’s “Dangerous by Design” report. The dangerous conditions in predominantly lower-income Hispanic and Black communities highlighted inequities within Greenville County.

“My research found that there were far more vehicle fatalities in the poorest parts of Greenville County with no call to action by county or state-elected officials to implement safer conditions for pedestrians,” she said.