Crossing the street seems like a simple task, yet more and more people are injured by merely attempting to get from one side of the road to the other. This is increasingly true for elderly or vulnerable residents of the Tri-State (New Jersey, New York and Connecticut) area.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) notes that there were over 4,300 pedestrians killed in traffic accidents in the United States during 2008. Many of these fatalities involved elderly people. According to data compiled by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign (TSTC), in the Tri-State area alone, there were 461 pedestrian accident fatalities involving people ages 60 and over between 2006 and 2008. Even though less than 18 percent of the overall population is age 60 or older, this demographic represented 37 percent of the fatal pedestrian accidents during those years. In fact, New Jersey accounted for five of the ten most dangerous counties in the region.
TSTC Initiatives Aimed at Increasing Pedestrian Safety
The TSTC has suggested several ways to improve pedestrian safety and prevent accidents, including increasing funding for the “Safe Route for Seniors” program and using federal grant funds to address pedestrian safety issues. They also encourage state and local governments to enact a so-called “Complete Streets Policy,” which the New Jersey Department of Transportation adopted last year.
The overall goal of the policy, as noted by the National Complete Streets Coalition (NCSC), is to help state, local and municipal governments design and operate streets in a manner that provides safe access for all users. The ultimate goal is to give the safest possible experience for motorists, transit riders, bicyclists and pedestrians alike, still accounting for all age ranges and all levels of physical ability. Connecticut has already passed a “complete streets” law and New York has similar legislation pending.
Groundbreaking New Jersey Pedestrian Awareness Legislation
In New Jersey, the policy officially establishes a checklist of pedestrian, bicycle and transit accommodations, including sidewalks, crosswalks and pedestrian signals and signs. There is a presumption that these accommodations will be included in every project unless they meet the requirements for an exception.
The New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) contends that this policy will improve safety for pedestrians, particular older ones. It will also promote a healthier environment and lifestyle for residents by reducing congestion and reliance on carbon fuels as well as providing much-needed exercise. The NJDOT also notes that by including these items in the initial design of a project, it will ultimately reduce costs, preventing the need for future redesigns and retrofits.