By Assemblywoman Lisa Swain and Assemblyman Chris Tully
Pedestrian safety is not something many motorists, bicyclists and walkers tend to think much about until they suddenly find it’s too late. When it comes to crossing the street, far too many of our state’s residents have learned the hard way just how dangerous this seemingly simple act can be. Bergenfield and Fair Lawn are among the many towns in our state that have experienced terrible accidents that seriously injured or killed pedestrians in recent years. Tragically, one of the lives lost was a 10-year-old child who was struck by a bus while crossing an intersection last May.
Each accident takes a toll on our communities – from the grief the victims’ loved ones endure to the residents who now fear for their safety as they walk and bike to their destinations. Tragically, there are over 150 pedestrian deaths each year throughout New Jersey – a number we could reduce by making an effort to implement important safety measures at key locations.
This is why we have made pedestrian safety one of our top priorities.
During budget discussions last year, we advocated for the allocation of funding to improve pedestrian safety in towns most impacted by this issue.
With the funds recently unfrozen by the governor, planned statewide safety improvements have been announced, including flashing beacons alerting drivers to a crossing pedestrian, radar units encouraging slower speeds near schools and additional striped crosswalks at more intersections. Each of these measures will help make roads safer and prevent more of these accidents from ever happening.
We hope other improvements we have suggested, such as the installation of brighter LED bulbs in street lamps and the placement of flashing beacons around busy malls and plazas, can take place at some point in the near future as well.
Also, it would help to understand which safety improvements work best in order to improve dangerous intersections throughout the entire state. In order to learn more about the efficacy of different safety measures, we can create an Enhanced Crossing and Crosswalk Pilot Program that would demonstrate which improvements are the most useful. This program would help open up the possibility for safety programs in other communities.
Similarly, a Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Advisory Council could help find problem areas, identify factors contributing to accidents and review current policies to offer suggestions and coordinate pedestrian safety efforts throughout New Jersey.
Improving safety is about more than just making physical changes to intersections – we also must educate drivers and pedestrians. If someone chooses not to initiate the flashing beacon or a driver is looking away from the road, accidents will happen.
Residents need to be more informed about procedures drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians should follow in order to stay safe. A public awareness campaign would help shed light on this important subject.
That is why we have sponsored several bills that would help address these issues.
It’s important to remember that everyone can and should be playing a part in keeping their community members safe from vehicular accidents.
Drivers can put the phone down and go slower in areas with lots of foot traffic. Always remember that pedestrians have the right of way, even in unmarked intersections.
Pedestrians should always look before crossing and make eye contact with drivers to make sure they see you.
Bicyclists must always wear reflective material at night and always bike on the right side of the road.
Don’t let one mistake jeopardize your life. We can all practice safety for everyone’s sake.
Government officials, private organizations and everyday citizens working together with pedestrian safety in mind will help make our state safer for all who live here.
Article published by the Star Ledger on March 7, 2020.