Winter weather makes commuting more difficult, students say


Jessie Phillips | For The Pitt News

The Commuter Student Lounge in Nordy’s Place.

By Brandon Raglow, Staff Writer

For Daniel Antantis, and other Pitt students who commute to campus, the recent string of poor and inconsistent weather has made the commute “a disaster.”

Antantis, a junior data science major, said difficult conditions around his house often force him to take alternate routes to school — routes that aren’t always guaranteed to be clear.

“When we got that first initial hit of all the snow and like, well, first it was raining and then snow, so it all froze, which was a disaster because where I live specifically, I live on the bottom of a steep hill, so I have to go up the hill to get to class,” Antantis said.

Snow, sleet and freezing rain have marked a difficult beginning to the spring semester only a few weeks after the University moved classes back in person. Commuter students such as Antantis discussed their experiences driving or riding the bus to campus in the weather.

Antantis, who lives in the Brentwood and Baldwin area, normally drives around 20 minutes to get to campus. He said the roads around Oakland are generally clear. But he feels for students who need to commute to campus from more than an hour away.

One of these students is Catherine Spiller, who said she’s had issues getting to class. Spiller, a first-year art history major, buses almost an hour and a half from Pittsburgh’s North Hills to campus every day.

“I slipped and fell last week. Down a hill,” Spiller said. “I have an 8 a.m. class, so I was up at 6 and it was pitch black. I just slid down the hill.”

Spiller said campus walkways are normally cleaned up and easy to walk on.

“They are very good about salting the roads, because I usually get off of the bus right outside campus,” Spiller said. “But once you hit campus the sidewalks are all clear.”

University spokesperson David Seldin said Facilities Management works to keep campus paths and walkways clear, but other infrastructure is maintained by various levels of government.

Antantis said he thinks that the University should allow more flexibility, such as remote and hybrid classes, when weather restricts movement. The University began the semester with two-and-a-half weeks of remote learning, but has since switched to fully in person. Despite this, some professors chose to switch to remote for a day due to the weather.

“One of my Thursday classes was actually switched to remote, which was really great for me,” Antantis said. “But Friday morning I did have an in-person class and it was very difficult getting there. I made sure I left at least an hour and 30 minutes before my class, just to give myself that buffer zone, so if anything would go wrong, I’d have time to get there.”

Antantis said while some professors have made accommodations for the weather, he believes the University should do more to help commuter students.

“I would say the University hasn’t, but I would say it’s more of a professor-by-professor basis. And I know most of my professors have said that the University does actually push them towards having in person and not going remote after the three weeks,” Antantis said. “So they were told to avoid going remote at all costs.”

Gray Cleric, a sophomore computer science major, said he carpools with his friends to get to campus. He said the group attempted to get a commuter student permit, which had all sold out quickly, so they instead rented a South Oakland parking spot.

Cleric said hybrid class options should be available whenever weather makes conditions unsafe for drivers and pedestrians.

“I feel like Zoom options should be made available when weather is kind of sketchy for both COVID reasons and just for safety reasons as well,” Cleric said. “Because we’d actually drive in and it’s like a 20, 25 minute walk from the spot we’re renting to campus. And there were some days where the sidewalks weren’t really treated. So it was just straight ice.”

Antantis said navigating a situation where some classes are online and others are in person is especially difficult for commuter students.

“The difficulty for a commuter student from having a remote class, in-person class and another remote class is almost impossible to navigate,” Antantis said. “Especially finding a place on campus where I can actually attend my class and participate.”

To avoid that situation, Antantis said he wouldn’t mind if the University mandated an online option for all classes during poor weather conditions to help commuters.

“Commuter students could very likely have a few classes go remote and then a few others remain in person and situations like that can make it incredibly difficult on commuters,” Antantis said. “Mandating all classes go remote can assure the safety of all commuter students and help relieve some of the tough schedules they often have.”

For some students, the COVID-19 pandemic showed options which allow for more flexibility when in-person classes become difficult. Cleric said he’d like to see hybrid options become standard.

“I don’t see any harm in it. I feel like our experiences with COVID kind of gave us more adaptive model scenarios,” Cleric said. “I feel like if we aren’t confident people can get to class safely, and professors for that matter, I do feel like it should be a mandatory option.”

Unfortunately, with long travel times, Spiller said online or hybrid options aren’t helpful for her unless the decision is made well before the class time.

“On Thursday, [hybrid options were announced] after I already got onto campus. So it seemed nice, but I had already been here by the time they announced that. I don’t have enough time to go home,” Spiller said.

Spiller added that it would be helpful if the University made the decision to go hybrid and let students know as quickly as possible.

“If the University were to [switch to hybrid courses], it would be much quicker than having me wait for every single technologically disinclined professor,” Spiller said.