This may not surprise seasoned pedestrians and drivers in New Jersey: Motorists can be impatient and pedestrians can be foolishly bold. Put them together and you get a version of “Chicken” on busy streets, particularly in shore towns teeming with people and cars each summer.
But in New Jersey, pedestrians in crosswalks are supposed to have the right of way under a law strengthened in April.
The Press of Atlantic City posted reporters and photographers last week at crosswalks in several shore towns to observe whether motorists are complying with the new state law requiring motorists to stop for, not just yield to, pedestrians in crosswalks — and to remain stopped until they complete their trip across all lanes of traffic. Motorists frequently ignored the law, forcing pedestrians to wait until the coast was clear.
As a car drove past an Ocean City pedestrian intersection where Susan Clark, of Secane, Pa., was standing, Clark said she would never assume a vehicle would stop despite neon road signs warning drivers about the requirement.
“I would never trust anyone would do anything,” she said after crossing the 800 block of Asbury Avenue safely with friends on Wednesday afternoon.
Pedestrian fatalities in New Jersey have remained consistent over the past decade, ranging between 137 and 166 from 2006 to 2009, even as overall traffic deaths declined statewide from 770 to 584 in those years.
At several crosswalks observed last week in Ocean City, North Wildwood, Ventnor, Margate, and Surf City, there were instances in which motorists did not stop for pedestrians in the crosswalks.
“It’s so busy here on the weekend, it’s going to be dangerous as hell,” said Joe Signorello of the Beach Haven West section of Stafford Township, as he tried to cross Long Beach Boulevard at a crosswalk at 13th Street in Surf City. Signorello made it across the road safely — only after a line of traffic failed to stop and allow him to cross.
“But now could be even more dangerous because not a lot of people know if someone’s going to stop suddenly,” he said. “It’s like no one knows when you’re stopping, and someone’s going to get whacked.”
The new law says, “The driver of a vehicle must stop and stay stopped for a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection” not including signalized intersections.
Penalties for failing to stop are $200 in fines, not including court costs, and two points on a driver’s license. The law also makes note of fines for jaywalkers: $54
Those charged with enforcing the law say it will require education. Various police departments will send decoy pedestrians to pedestrian crossings this summer, when New Jersey’s new law may gets its greatest test: shore towns see millions of visitors, many of them walking to beaches, bars or boardwalks.
“I’d say 60 percent of them stop. Other times there will be a driver who speeds up as soon as your foot hits the stripes,” said Lou Luberto, of North Wildwood, who walked his dog Molly through a crosswalk in North Wildwood on Wednesday. “And then there are a lot of people who step out there but don’t pay attention.”
In the towns themselves, the new law may not necessarily be clear by what road signs are in place. In North Wildwood on the beach block at John F. Kennedy Beach Drive, for example, road signs say that state law requires drivers to yield to pedestrians.
Ocean City police Lt. Steve Ang said police will issue warnings and summonses to both drivers and pedestrians to bring attention to the new law.
“The wording (of the law) means little if it’s not being obeyed,” he said. “Our whole idea is to educate the public, get them to obey the law and hopefully prevent a tragedy.”
“I think you’re going to have confusion,” Ang said. “You’re in a shore community and drivers are not familiar with their surroundings, looking for an address, a house. And the pedestrians — the same thing. The other big thing, jaywalking and crossing where you shouldn’t … Everybody’s going to take some responsible for their own safety. You’re going to lose the battle against that 3,000 pound car, whether you have the right of way or not.”
State transportation officials said the new law was the first major change to the pedestrian law in more than 50 years. The state used a 2009 fatal accident in Ocean City as it promoted the new law. Casey Feldman, 21, of Springfield, Pa., was killed crossing an intersection on July 21, 2009, after a delivery driver had stopped, but did not see her and ran her over.
At a designated pedestrian intersection at Seventh Street and Atlantic Avenue in Ocean City, pedestrians taking the crosswalks Wednesday afternoon rarely had a motorist actually stop.
“You always kind of hope so,” said Jon Edwards, of Bellmawr, walking across the street with his son Adam, 4. A passing silver Toyota did not stop for them.
A driver actually did stop for Ryan Michaels, 25, of Glassboro, and Andrea Skiba, 20, of Pitman, as they carried an umbrella and cooler to the beach in Ocean City.
“I wasn’t expecting him to stop there to be honest with you,” Michaels said after the fact.
Michaels said he approves of the law because it keeps people more cautious. But he said he has seen a great deal of confusion over it, even near his college of Rowan University. Michaels said he has seen some pedestrians at signalized intersections trying to cross as if they have the right of way.
In Atlantic County, at Ventnor and Newport avenues in Ventnor, Gene Snyder was almost halfway across the intersection when a two trucks and a van barreled right past him. Still, when asked if drivers follow the law and stop for pedestrians, the Ventnor residents answered that “They usually do.”
Shelley Moran of Margate agreed — to a point.
“As long as you stay in the crosswalk,” drivers stop, she said. “But I’ve got to tell you, a lot of people don’t. A lot of people don’t look at the traffic light. It seems like a lot of people don’t use common sense.”
Added Peggy Long of Ventnor, “They jaywalk, they walk against the light, and then they mosey across like they’re not holding up traffic.”
Ally Mullen, however, put the onus on drivers.
“They don’t (stop),” the Ventnor resident said. “They try to run you over. ... I really don’t think they know about the law. I live right down the street, and a lot of times you do almost get hit by a car.”
Farther down Ventnor Avenue in Margate, George Policastro, of the Cardiff section of Egg Harbor Township, was circumspect about whether drivers follow the law — “Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t” — but said that in Atlantic City, at least, police were beginning to crack down on pedestrians.
“Cops give out tickets now,” Policastro said. ‘I come out of work and people are crossing against the light, walking around like they don’t have a care in the world. I understand pedestrians have the right of way, but these laws are there to protect you. When it’s a 2,000-pound vehicle versus a 200-pound guy ...”
As far as when he’s driving, “As long as I’m not getting rear-ended, I have no problem stopping the car.”
Kevin McDonnell said that drivers rarely stop in the area of Ventnor Avenue’s intersection with Essex Avenue, one of the few in central Margate with no traffic light.
“Especially around these four blocks here,” the Margate resident said. “They should have a traffic cop here, especially on weekends.”
Fellow Margate resident Cindy Pfeffer said that many of those pouring into the Downbeach region this summer may not even know about the law.
“The locals definitely know,” Pfeffer said, “and the locals are definitely good about it. ... But this past weekend, the holiday weekend, there were a lot of people not stopping. I think now that summer is here, something needs to be done to make (more) people know about it.”
North Wildwood Mayor Bill Henfey said the city last year used decoys in crosswalks to bring attention to the law then requiring motorists to yield. Particularly complicating issues is that many drivers are from out of state from Pennsylvania or Maryland or even from Canada.
But Henfey said the new law seems too extreme with the notion of a motorist staying stopped until a pedestrian has completely crossed the crosswalk.
“It’s going be hard to educate the people to stop until someone gets from one curb to the other,” he said. “Once you’re out of that lane, why traffic can’t slowly go by, I don’t understand.”
Surf Mayor Leonard T. Connors said the newly enacted pedestrian safety law is going to cause “monumental problems” on Long Beach Island roads this summer season.
“They’ll have to modify it,” Connors said. “ And I think pedestrians have a responsibility to be aware of traffic.”
“The driver of a vehicle must stop and stay stopped for a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, except at crosswalks when the movement of traffic is being regulated by police officers or traffic control signals, or where otherwise prohibited by municipal, county, or state regulation, and except where a pedestrian tunnel or overhead pedestrian crossing has been provided, but no pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield. Nothing contained herein shall relieve a pedestrian from using due care for his safety.”
Source: The state Division of Highway Traffic Safety website.
Staff writers Donna Weaver and Steve Lemongello contributed to this report.
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