Commuter students voice concerns about risky winter conditions with the increasing storms

Some commuters advocate for remote option when roads, sidewalks could pose a danger for traveling

Written By Diana Navarette, For The Globe

With the recent severe storms, students are finding it difficult to plan around the unpredictable winter months—and the problem is even more complex to navigate for commuters who do not have the advantage of living on campus.

On Wednesday, Feb. 2, the National Winter Service – Pittsburgh issued a winter snowstorm warning due to the potentially dangerous mix of rain, snow and ice predicted for the next two days. Dean of Students Keith Paylo sent an email to all students warning of the potential storm and the possibility of adjustments to the school’s schedule.

“As many of you are aware, there is the potential for a severe weather event over the next two days. The university continues to monitor this possible winter storm forecasted that could affect our area tomorrow and Friday,” Paylo said in the email. “Point Park, along with other local and regional universities, understand the importance of keeping our students as safe and healthy as possible as they travel to and from campus.”

On the afternoon of Thursday, Feb. 3, Point Park University Police emailed and texted (to those enrolled in the emergency PointAlert system) an urgent update to all students, announcing that evening classes were canceled for the day. The next morning, students received another alert, stating that university buildings would be closed on Friday, Feb. 4 due to “hazardous weather conditions.” Along with university police, Dean Paylo reiterated the updates, labeled as “important updates,” through email.

“Whenever bad weather is in the forecast, Point Park monitors trends and looks at guidance from the city and county on road conditions and other factors that may make it hazardous to travel,” Lou Corsaro, Managing Director of University marketing and Public Relations, said.

With the winter storms making transportation to campus nearly impossible, the university’s decision to cancel classes came as a relief to non-residential students.

Junior multimedia major Tran Lê said that she leaves home around 9 a.m to 10 a.m. to get to campus, which is about a 15 minute commute from where she currently lives.

“I would say there is difficulty being a commuter in general,” Lê said. “It definitely gets worse during the winter as it makes the drive more dangerous and slow, especially being a driving commuter and for those commuters who have to wait in the cold for the bus.”

Senior public relations and advertising major Miranda McArdle rides the Port Authority bus for a 25-minute commute three days a week to get to and from her classes.

McArdle said that she lives in a city neighborhood that often remains unsalted and unplowed, making it difficult to even get to her bus stop.

“There’s that stress of getting to campus during bad weather when classes are rarely ever canceled,” McArdle said. “You have to deal with the stress of either taking the risk of going to class or staying home and using one of your two to three excused absences and getting behind in class.”

Along with monitoring weather and safety concerns, Corsaro said that when the university buildings close due to weather-related conditions, the university cancels classes rather than reverting to remote classes. When classes are not canceled due to extremely hazardous weather, however, he recommends that commuter students use their own judgment upon traveling to campus:

“If a commuter student feels they cannot safely make it to the campus for classes, they should immediately notify their professors.”

Along with Lê and McArdle, Marc Palombo, a sophomore theater major and senator of the Student Government Association (SGA), drives himself or uses the only Beaver County Transit bus that leaves at 6:45 a.m., taking about 40 minutes to an hour to get to campus, depending on the weather and traffic.

“The roads are horrible. The roads are so bad. But you just have to make do,” Palombo said. “Without a doubt, I would love to go downstairs and go to my class or like walk out the door and walk down the street and head to class. But that’s just not the case at the moment.”

It is not just students who rely on transportation to get to campus who experience these problems. Commuters who walk to campus endure freezing temperatures during the winter months and walk on sidewalks covered with snow and ice.

“I walk to school everyday,” Natalea Hillen, a sophomore broadcast journalism with a minor in marketing, said. “It takes about seven minutes. Since all I have to do is walk, I manage to get to school on snowy days. I’d prefer to have classes online when the temperature is in the negatives, and if it’s snowing to the point where no one can safely drive.”

Hillen is not the only one who believes there should be the option of remote learning during the winter months for commuters who do not want to risk coming to class in poor weather conditions.

“When there’s heavy snowfall, I would prefer my classes to be remote, as an option,” Lê said. “This is more safe and convenient for commuting students who cannot make it to class, and for whoever wants to show up in person still, they can.”

McArdle said that she worries about her safety when she has to attend classes in-person and the roads become dangerous.

“My bus goes up and down 18th Street in [the] South Side, which is just one long hill. I always get nervous that the bus will slide or get stuck,” McArdle said. “Even if the snow isn’t too bad when I leave for classes, I worry about it getting worse while I’m at school and not being able to get home.”

In addition to its effects on commuters, the snowstorm also prevented residential students like junior graphic design major Jacky Lin from being able to leave campus or go home for the weekend. Instead, Lin stayed on campus to avoid the risk of driving for about an hour in dangerous weather conditions.

“Now that there’s a winter storm this week, I’m staying on campus until the snow has melted to a certain point where the road is safe and driveable,” Lin said. “Though staying on campus alleviates the stress of coming back onto campus on a Sunday night, I still find it difficult as I have to handle my errands that I need to run through the phone rather than in-person.”

Commuter students overall said they require self-motivation and dedication to not discourage themselves from missing classes, despite the odds against them and the unpredictable weather of downtown Pittsburgh.

“No matter what, I always attend my class. Even if I’m tired or not, because I like to participate in my classes and not skip,” Lin said.