As the rate of pedestrian fatalities continues to fluctuate annually in the region, the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety has started its annual pedestrian decoy program with partnering police departments in an attempt to step up safety enforcement.
So far in 2013, six pedestrians have died in Ocean County, one in Atlantic County and two in Cumberland County, State Police statistics show. Cape May County has seen no deaths this year.
The pedestrian program was unveiled in 2008, and state funding varies depending on the size of the program for each municipality. Each detail requires at least four officers who work four-hour shifts, and the officers are paid $50 an hour, said Zach Hosseini, spokesman for the Division of Highway Traffic Safety.
Gary Poedubicky, acting director of the division, said officers in plain clothes are stationed at crosswalks while another officer is nearby watching for offenders who violate the law and do not permit the undercover officer to cross the road. Poedubicky said tickets and warnings can be given to drivers caught during the details.
The agency regularly targets locations where pedestrian safety is a concern when bringing municipalities into the program, Hosseini said.
Ocean City police Capt. Stephen Ang said officers there have participated in the program for the past three summers. Ang said the department became proactive with pedestrian safety after the death of 21-year-old Casey Feldman, who was killed in July 2009 while crossing the street on her way to Bob’s Grill at 14th Street and the Boardwalk, where she worked.
Officers work at problem areas, which include 29th Street and Asbury Avenue, Ang said.
As part of the pedestrian decoy program, Ocean City police conducted enforcement for the start of the summer tourism season about two weeks ago and recently increased patrols in problem locations where pedestrian safety is an issue.
“It doesn’t matter how many laws are out there, it really comes down to eye contact and being aware of your surroundings,” he said.
Part of the problem that drivers say contributes to pedestrian injuries and fatalities is the pedestrian’s sense of empowerment when they blindly walk into an intersection assuming a vehicle will stop because the pedestrian has the right of way, Ang said.
“It does a pedestrian no good if that vehicle doesn’t see you and stop. You really need to make eye contact and make sure that driver sees you and you see them,” he said.
Vince Jones, head of the Atlantic County Office of Highway Safety, said the county has the most issues with pedestrian safety on the White Horse and Black Horse pikes.
Only three departments in Atlantic County participate in the state’s pedestrian decoy program: Pleasantville, Somers Point and Hammonton, Hosseini said.
Implementing the pedestrian decoy program in more Atlantic County police departments has proved difficult, Jones said.
“When it comes to enforcement, the police can go out and do it, but that’s only good if you have the personnel to go and do it with all the budget cuts and the minimizing of personnel. The cuts don’t allow these departments to go out and do all we want to do,” he said.
In February, the Black Horse Pike and Route 9 in Ocean County were named on a list of the deadliest roads in the state by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a regional road safety advocacy group focused on New Jersey, Connecticut and southern New York roads.
From 2005 to 2011, 18 pedestrians were killed on the Black Horse Pike. From 2009 to 2011, there were six pedestrian deaths on Route 9 in Ocean County, which tied for the sixth-deadliest roadway in the report.
The White Horse Pike, although not named on the list, is also very dangerous, Jones said.
On both pikes, many people staying in the motels run across the road in an attempt to beat traffic instead of using designated crosswalks, officials say.
Egg Harbor Township police have distributed literature to the motels in the past, urging those who stay there to use caution and crosswalks when crossing the pikes.
“I have, myself, seen someone run across the White Horse Pike in Absecon, and then they’re sitting on the concrete divider as traffic is moving past them at 50, 60 mph. Then I’m sitting there clenching my teeth and thinking they’re going to (get) hit and this is going to happen right in front of me,” Jones said.
Hamilton Township Police worked with the state Department of Transportation to put up a chain-link fence on the Black Horse Pike near the Hamilton Mall to deter people from running across the road, he said.
“It proved to be a good deterrent, because at that intersection with the McDonald’s and the apartments, they had to put up a physical barrier to stop people from running across the road,” he said. “Local law enforcement will target those areas of the road and when they see those pedestrians. I know they try and grab them before they make the dash.”
Long Beach Township is the only municipality in southern Ocean County that participates in the state’s pedestrian decoy program.
Ocean County regularly ranks near the top in the state for the number of pedestrian fatalities annually, State Police statistics show.
Little Egg Harbor Township police Chief Richard Buzby said that while it is a beneficial program, it is not on the list of priorities right now.
“Our downtown area is a lot different than places like Tuckerton and Long Beach Township, where there are more crosswalks located. We have not had any issues with pedestrian safety, but if it became an issue in the township, I would put attention on it and address it,” Buzby said.
The crosswalks near golf course areas on Radio Road and Railroad Avenue are marked well, and there are light systems in place there that have been effective, he said, adding the crosswalks in those locations are used heavily without issue.
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