Monday, July 27, 2009

Resolving the "Pedestrian Death Problem" in New Jersey

On Saturday evening former American Idol contestant Alexis Cohen was killed by a hit and run driver in Seaside Heights early Saturday Morning. The driver was apprehended and charged with several crimes including aggravated manslaughter. The death of a person of notoriety and the brutal circumstances of the crash has boosted New Jersey's latest pedestrian death into international headlines. The crash occurred just one week after Springfield, Delaware Co. resident Casey Feldman was killed crossing the street in Ocean City.

To date more than 90 pedestrians have been killed on NJ roads accounting for a nation leading 30% 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 counter measures 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?
The task seems onerous especially in these tight financial times, however if the process saves any lives in the future than the effort will pay for itself many times over.


Dan said...

I checked out the FARS data for New Jersey pedestrian fatality rates. From 1994 to 2007, the number of pedestrian deaths fluctuate between 144 and 165 per year. The data for each year was not broken down by month so I don't know what seasonal patterns of fatalities may occur in New Jersey. However, assuming that no significant seasonal variations occur, the number of fatalities to date is well within the expected range.

While it is crucial to continue to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety, I think that is important to recognize, assuming that the FARS data is correct, that the number pedestrian and cyclist fatalities is not increasing in Pennsylvania or New Jersey during the years 1994 to 2007.

For the U.S., the number of pedestrian deaths in 2007 was about 15% lower than the number of fatalities in the recorded in the mid 1990s. The data shows a clear decline in pedestrian deaths since 1995. The number of cyclist deaths show no clear pattern of decrease from 1994 to 2007. Given that the population of the U.S. increased by 40 million people during this period, it is a significant public safety achievement to have such a significant decrease in the number of pedestrian fatalities.

sidewalkluvr said...

Yeah right, John. Either that or there are simply fewer pedestrians/cyclists using roadways because the information is out: it is simply too dangerous. I think anyone who has spent more than a day in NJ knows that it is nearly impossible and usually dangerous to be locomotive in NJ without a car, from the southern tip to the northern border.

sidewalkluvr said...

Correction: responding to Dan above.