A New Jersey town found a simple way to eliminate pedestrian deaths at a busy intersection.
It brings everything to a halt for 26 seconds.
The borough of Leonia is small (pop. 9,195), a town of about one square mile in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge. It takes the spillover whenever traffic builds up into and out of New York City, whether because of everyday volume or vindictive state officials, as happened during Bridgegate. The number of shortcutters has also skyrocketed with the use of Google maps and navigating apps such as Waze.
“Years ago, the shortcuts through my town were word of mouth, secrets — that’s no longer the case,” Leonia Police Chief Thomas P. Rowe said Monday.
But after a fatality occurred three years ago on a day of overflow traffic at Fort Lee Road and Broad Avenue, Rowe said the town had had enough. So it set the timing on the stoplights at the intersection to halt all traffic every other cycle. Studies have shown it’s a simple but effective way to reduce pedestrian fatalities. Rowe said the measure cut the number of crashes involving pedestrians at the intersection from about three a year to zero, a milestone first reported by The Bergen Record.
“Completely shutting down vehicle movement was what we needed to do,” Rowe said. “Everybody worries about traffic volumes, and making sure cars are moving as quick as possible, but you have to go back to, what are we trying to achieve? I can’t see another person getting killed. You have to make the priority pedestrian safety.”
More than 5,300 pedestrians were killed in 2015, up about 8 percent from nearly 4,900 in the previous year, the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency (NHTSA) says. One of those victims in 2014 was Leila Khan.
Khan, 60, was on Fort Lee Road crossing Broad Avenue on Aug. 7 when she was struck by a school bus. Her foot became stuck in a wheel, and she was dragged more than 70 feet. The bus driver — who was turning left at the intersection when the crash occurred — didn’t know she had hit anyone until other drivers alerted her, the Record reported.
There were 90 minute delays at the GWB that day, which is not that unusual, and Leonia was awash in traffic when Khan was killed.
“So it was time that something had to be done so a horrific incident like this would never occur again,” Rowe said.
The American Journal of Public Health, in a review of safety literature in 2003, found that the risk of crashes involving vehicles and pedestrians was cut in half at intersections with all-red traffic stops, compared to intersections that had standard traffic signaling.
The traffic signal known as a “Barnes dance” or “pedestrian scramble” is making a resurgence in urban areas across the country as people ditch cars in favor of walking and cycling. The “Barnes dance” signal — named for the late traffic engineer, Henry Barnes, who was a proponent of these pedestrian signals in many U.S. cities.
These pedestrian-friendly traffic signals became popular in the United States in the 1940s, but fell out of favor as cars became more popular and federal disability laws became more stringent. A sidewalk must have a ramp at every direction where a pedestrian can cross, including the diagonal angle. And an intersection with a “Barnes Dance” signal can’t be so long diagonally that it would be difficult for someone with disabilities to cross within the allotted time.
The all-red timing at Leonia’s deadly intersection became effective July 1, 2016, and more than a year has passed without a pedestrian-vehicle accident, Rowe said. As a former detective who has locked up convicts for homicide and other crimes, Rowe said he felt the same way seeing that the measure actually worked.
“I’m extremely happy,” Rowe said. “It gives me peace of mind. We may implement it in other intersection.
Compared with the alternative, the all-traffic stop for 26 seconds is a bargain: a full stop for an entire year without pedestrian accidents.
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