When you think about what’s been going on in the world for the past week, you might be thinking more about Christmas than pedestrian fatalities, but the latter took no holiday this year. Over the course of the past week, South Jersey has seen an astonishing number of serious pedestrian injuries and deaths on its roadways.
Here’s what’s been happening.
On Sunday, December 28th, at 7pm in Franklin Township, Gloucester County, a police cruiser struck and killed a 10-year old boy “as he walked to a friend’s house for a sleepover.”
Also on Sunday the 28th, in Mount Laurel, Burlington Township, a man walking along South Church Street was struck and killed by a car at 5:25pm.
On Saturday, December 27th, another incident occurred in Franklin Township, Gloucester County, when a man in a pickup truck severely injured a man on a bicycle on Little Mill Road. Witnesses who saw the crash “told police they saw the truck driving off with the bike still attached.”
On Christmas Eve in Hammonton, Atlantic County, a 77-year old woman leaving a church mass was killed by a minivan at 5:30pm on Route 206.
Also on Christmas Eve, in Washington Township, Gloucester County, a 17-year old was killed by an SUV while finishing up “Christmas shopping with friends.”
Let’s explore some themes common to each incident. Almost all occurred on roadways with no sidewalk, or, if one was present, an inconsistent sidewalk broken up by driveways. Aside from Delsea Drive, there weren’t even shoulders to travel in. A plurality of incidents involved large vehicles (a pickup truck, an SUV, a minivan), which are given extra consideration on our roadways in the form of wider lanes that make crossing roads harder for pedestrians. And in all but one case, no charges were filed, which is all too common in cases of car-on-pedestrian/biker fatalities.
Next, let’s take a look at the roads where those people lost their lives. Those roads were designed by planners with the express purpose of moving cars with little care for people on foot or on bike. These incidents are no aberrations, but represent the hazards of everyday non-motorized life in South Jersey. Throughout our state’s history of building up its suburban sprawl, we’ve almost entirely given our spaces over to cars and trucks. And yet despite this extremely hostile environment, people still attempt to talk and bike around their neighborhoods. One of the shames of our state is truly that we ignore this basic human desire and instead cater near exclusively to motorized traffic.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You can move cars and allow pedestrians and bicyclists to live at the same time. South Jersey, and most of the rest of the state too, has merely spent 60 years ignoring this fact. But now that the state is reaching peak sprawl, more intelligent decisions have to be made about transportation. We have a moral imperative to stop preventable deaths on our roadways with roadway design that puts both motorized and non-motorized traffic on a more even playing field. I dearly hope that the planners of the 21st century take up this charge, lest more of our children die in the streets.