VINELAND — City police are attributing Sunday night’s pedestrian death to what they say is a continuing problem: People dangerously crossing busy Delsea Drive everywhere but at the relative safety of intersections.
The problem has existed for years despite efforts by state and local authorities who have invested time and money and public relations efforts to improve pedestrian safety here and throughout New Jersey.
In some cases, it is just a matter of pedestrians not wanting to walk 50 feet to get to a signal-controlled intersection, said Sgt. Peter D’Arrigo of the city’s Police Department.
“People are just crossing Delsea Drive where they feel like crossing,” he said.
“They do it all over Delsea Drive,” said Mayor Robert Romano.
Police said Marcial Vargas-Lopez, 61, of Chestnut Avenue, was crossing Delsea Drive, which is also known as Route 47, near Chestnut Avenue. Vargas-Lopez was hit around 9:20 p.m. by a car driven by 48-year-old Millville resident Tina Hines traveling south. No summonses were issued to Hines, who police said appears not to be at fault.
Romano, a former city police officer who also is the city’s public safety director, said local authorities are not sure if Vargas-Lopez was crossing Delsea Drive to get to a bus stop or nearby liquor store.
“The guy just ran out,” Romano said. “He wasn’t walking.”
Vargas-Lopez was taken to South Jersey Healthcare Regional Medical Center here, where he eventually died of his injuries, police said.
Delsea Drive runs for slightly more than 70 miles between Atlantic Avenue in Wildwood, Cape May County, and Route 130 in Brooklawn, Camden County.
The stretch of Delsea Drive that runs for about 10 miles from near Route 49 in Millville to an area just north of Arbor Avenue here was designated by the state in 2004 as a safety corridor. Fines for a variety of motor vehicles offenses in a state-designated safety zone are doubled.
Much of the portion of the road that runs through this city extends through busy commercial areas, such as around Cumberland Mall near the city’s border with Millville and its downtown area around Landis and Chestnut avenues and Park Avenue.
State Police records show there are 13 traffic-related fatalities in Cumberland County this year. Three of those fatalities, including Sunday’s, occurred on Delsea Drive. Two of the three fatalities occurred in this city.
Romano said parts of Delsea Drive run for relatively long distances between intersections. Many pedestrians in those areas take their chances at crossing the road at various points because they consider it more convenient than making a lengthy walk to an intersection, he said.
Pedestrians will, at times, also race across the six lanes of Delsea Drive that run in front of Cumberland Mall, he said.
Romano said he is not sure how to stop people from improperly crossing Delsea Drive, which is a state highway. He said any warning signs or other changes must be made by the state.
Officials with the state Department of Transportation were not available for comment.
Romano is ruling out one possible solution: Adding crosswalks at various points along Delsea Drive, something that would, under state law, force motorists to stop for pedestrians using the crosswalks.
“How are you going to do that on Delsea Drive with people driving 50 miles an hour?” he said. “You can’t do it.”
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