New Jersey Needs to Face Its Pedestrian Fatality Problem

The other day, a woman on foot was killed by a someone driving a car in New Jersey. Sadly, that isn’t terribly unusual. What made this death more "newsworthy" — elevating it briefly to the CNN headline stack yesterday — was the fact that Alexis Cohen, the woman who was left on the side of the road by a hit-and-run driver, had auditioned for American Idol.

But as the blog of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia points out, Alexis Cohen was one of many, including Casey Feldman, another young woman hit in another Jersey beach town just a week earlier: 

398103105_7f23b59b12.jpgWhy is New Jersey’s pedestrian fatality rate so high? And what can they do about it? Photo by iirraa via Flickr.

To date [in 2009] more than 90 pedestrians have been killed on NJ roads, accounting for a nation-leading 30 percent of all traffic fatalities, almost
three times the national average. Googling NJ Pedestrian enforcement
indicates that law enforcement has responded in some places with ticketing blitzes. However, interviews with various government officials indicate that no one is quite sure how to effectively deal with the problem, with one official speculating that the economy was responsible for the increase.

Let’s
end the speculation and put together the facts. The stakeholders in New Jersey need to put their collective minds together to analyze and solve
the problem at hand:

  • Using police reports analyze a large sample of recent fatal pedestrian crashes with the Pedestrian and Bicycle Crash Analysis Tool (PBCAT). PBCAT is a software application designed to assist state and local pedestrian and bicycle coordinators, planners, and engineers in addressing pedestrian and bicyclist crash problems.
  • Compile the actual investigative follow-up from the crashes — were charges filed, were other countermeasures recommended or implemented?
  • Condense the results into a report that breaks out the most common factors, outcomes and recommended countermeasures.
  • Convene a pedestrian safety summit with NJ DOT, Traffic Safety, law enforcement, elected officals, pedestrian safety experts and transportation planners all at the table.
  • The summit would then generate a list of recommendations and goals for the state and local governments to implement.
  • Follow up with an evaluation of the process. Did the recommendations actually contribute to reducing pedestrian deaths?

These are worthy recommendations, it seems to us. But the headlines are already moving on. Will New Jersey officials have the motivation, or the political will, to deal with the problem? 

More from the network: Maybe GM should focus on its bike division if it wants to be viable for the future, says Boot ‘n’ Scoot. Tucson Bike Lawyer laments the hate-filled nature of online bike vs. pedestrian discourse. And Boston Biker has two open letters: One to the driver who swerved across three lanes of traffic to cut him off, and one to the cop who thought it wasn’t a problem.

  • Kiosk User

    Ten years ago, Atlantic County, in it’s transportation master plan, declared in principle that most trips in and out of the county will be by car. It shows.

    Atlantic City’s outlet mall, named “The Walk”, is an obstacle course for peds, who need to press buttons to activate ped crossings. Said buttons are as much as 20+ feet from the curb cut, some blocked by large potted plants. Not all work. Peds get a flashing red hand and a countdown within seconds of the green (winder why cars never get a countdown).

    Longport, at the southern tip of Absecon Island, has “simplified” things for drivers and peds by blotting out the crosswalks on the southern side of many intersections on Atlantic Avenue the main drag throgh town, accompanied by “no peds” signs. Same Longport has:
    – blocked a popular walking path along the bay with a stone wall
    – abolished southbound bus stops along a stretch of the main drag
    – succeeded in getting NJTransit to reduce bus service to the town.
    – banned fishing from a pupular bridge (except after midnight in the winter) “for the safety of the fishermen”.

    Few cars yield to peds. Trying to cross the street at the shore on a weekend, especially at night is a nightmare.

  • Got all the skills and qualifications they need to help work on this and I’m still looking for full-time work!

    Go figure!

  • The Truffle Shuffle

    First…NJ does have a pedestrian safety initiative in place, which was started in 2006. See link: http://www.state.nj.us/transportation/commuter/pedsafety/initiative.shtm . I can speak from experience that this initiative is doing things because I am currently working for a consultant on a project that is being funded through it.

    I feel like the larger issue comes down to one thing. Education. Not only of irresponsible drivers, but also of irresponsible pedestrians and cyclists that run rampant throughout this state. Although there are a lot who do follow the “rules of the road” per se, I can easily state that the majority of pedestrians do not wait for the “walk” signal or cross only at cross walks, and cyclists certainly do not always obey traffic laws as they are supposed to. I’ve read a good number of police reports, and in a good deal of cases the pedestrian has been at fault as well. In addition to that, a high number of these fatalities are among the immigrant populations that have risen in NJ over the last decade…so once again I’m back at education. NJ is the most densely populated state in the country, so by definition we are going to have high incidences involving pedestrians, cyclists, and autos. But I agree it’s no excuse. My only intent for posting was to inform that there are things being done…albeit slowly, but that’s the nature of anything in this state. Officials sure aren’t taking bribes to build sidewalks. Then again…who would actually go ahead and do the bribing???

  • I Know

    No you don’t, Andy B!

  • While it is true that NJ has a problem with pedestrian fatalities, and that much more needs to be done (including a statewide complete streets law that applies to state, county and municipally maintained roads), the figure cited in the article above is misleading. That NJ’s rate of pedestrian fatalities compared with overall traffic fatalities is high says very little about the relative dangers of being a pedestrian in New Jersey. Indeed, when compared to other states on a pedestrian fatality per capita basis, New Jersey is somewhere in the middle. Instead what that statistic shows is that New Jersey has more pedestrians than other states. I suspect that if you looked at the same figure for New York City you would find that it is also well above the national average.

    Again, I don’t mean to trivialize the severity of the problem, only to call attention to a misleading statistic.

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