Earlier this year the tragic death of Rabbi James Diamond shocked Princeton. Now, a string of dreadful accidents featuring New Jersey car drivers has us questioning whether our transportation choices are worth the cost in human life and injury.
A Newark pedestrian was struck last Friday night by three different vehicles on Friday night, two of which- disgracefully- fled the scene. Two weeks ago, a woman was hospitalized after being hit by a car while crossing a road in South Jersey, in an accident that claimed the life of her dog.
Pedestrians are not even safe on the sidewalk. Drivers in the Princeton area have recently driven their cars into a lake, a VfW hall, and at least two different houses. A Princeton woman walking in Plainsboro was recently struck by a car that mounted the sidewalk. The carnage has even gone international, with a NJ driver killing a pedestrian after making an illegal turn and crashing over the curb in Toronto, Canada. (In that case, he was punished with a $400 fine.)
Besides these shocking incidents that get reported, every day sees a remarkable number of less serious accidents on our roads, which range from day-ruiners to life-changing events. Every activity has risks, but how many accidents do you think take place in Mercer County? The answer is between 12,000 and 15,000 per year. That is 40 crashes per day in Mercer County alone.
Meanwhile, we are widening Route 1, passing policies to prevent addition of speed bumps in Princeton (although those installed in the Western Section will surely remain) and adding housing at sites that require car use. The result of this will be more traffic, more car dependency, and likely more pedestrian casualties. We don’t have to go this route. We could choose policies that make it easy for people to get to where they need to be without using cars. We could look for transit solutions instead of road-widening solutions. (N.B. State gas tax doesn’t even cover the cost of bond repayments for existing roads, never mind new ones.) And we could add features to make walking safer.
The New Jersey Department of Transit strategic assessment of pedestrian safety recommends several new measures to improve pedestrian safety:
“Approaches such as the use of special pedestrian-oriented lighting at midblock crosswalks, raised medians, traffic calming to reduce speeds, and pedestrian-only signals are possible responses to this prevalent problem.”
All of these suggestions would be worthwhile, and in fact, with appropriate traffic calming measures, speed bumps become unnecessary because the road layout induces safe driver behavior. But the NJDOT strategy document further notes:
“These are relatively unusual methods for NJDOT, presenting both policy and organizational challenges to be worked out.”
Translated: “We’re going to keep doing what we’ve always done until somebody really makes us change!” In Princeton, we need advocates to ensure that our newly-adopted Complete Streets policy is properly implemented. We can’t assume that New Jersey drivers will always drive safely, but we can make changes to our built environment to protect ourselves, our children and our seniors when we are walking around tour town.
Do you think our streets are safe for pedestrians? Could we do more to make walking and cycling safer? Leave a comment below, or consider coming to a Walkable Princeton meet-up, where we discuss issues such as how to make Princeton safer for walkers.