Pedestrian Safety is a Two-Way Street

Third-year Spanish major Elizabeth F. was walking on Main Street on Oct. 29 at around 2 p.m. when she came up to the crosswalk by Cherry Hill Road. She waited until it was her turn to safely walk across the street. However she noticed that there was a car about to turn left (on red) right in front of her. The driver slowed down significantly and they made eye contact. She was sure he saw her and since the light was red she assumed he would stop. She kept walking, since she had the right of way, and thought she was safe. She was wrong. The driver saw her walking across the street but decided to keep driving and hit her. 

She was thankful that it wasn’t a life-threatening accident, but it did leave her heavily bruised, in pain and scared.

The next day, Sabrina Petroski, a fourth-year digital media major, was walking up the exit of the McDonald’s located on Main Street around noon when she encountered a woman stopped in her car at the exit. The driver looked at her and nodded at her to cross the street, so Petroski assumed it was safe to go. When Petroski was directly in front of the vehicle, the driver began to accelerate and pull out of the parking lot. As the car collided with her, she tried to stay standing and banged on the hood of the car, because if she would have fallen down the vehicle would’ve ran over her. Eventually, the driver noticed she hit her and stopped so Petroski could run to the other side of the road. The driver waved apologetically and then drove away. 

Petroski felt lucky to come out of this incident with no serious injuries, just some back pain and light bruising on her leg. However, she is one victim of numerous accidents involving pedestrians in the town as of late.

According to a New Paltz Police Department (NPPD) press release, at approximately 5:27 p.m. on Nov. 5, 2018, only a week after Elizabeth’s accident, officers from the NPPD responded to a report of a subject lying in the roadway on Main Street near the intersection of Joalyn Road. The initial investigation indicates the pedestrian was struck by a vehicle traveling eastbound on Main Street when he attempted to cross and was knocked to the ground. The pedestrian was treated at the scene and transported to a local hospital where he later succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced deceased.  

Any pedestrian in New Paltz has at some point experienced the plight of crossing Main Street. The town has only one main road, with few crosswalks. The lack of clearly marked crosswalks, combined with the overwhelming traffic, pedestrians often are forced to jaywalk at unsafe times and areas. 

We at The New Paltz Oracle believe this series of car accidents and pedestrian collisions in town cannot be ignored. These collisions are happening in broad daylight, late afternoon and into the evening. In a town wrought with new drivers, given the location of a high school and university, driving mishaps are sure to arise and they lend themselves to big driving dangers such as texting, driving under the influence and general inexperience. A heightened awareness on the road from both pedestrians and drivers can literally be the difference between life and death.

Recognizing the dangers of driving for both drivers and pedestrians is the first step to ensuring driver and pedestrian safety. With incidents occuring at all times of the day, perhaps it is time to reevaluate the town’s infrastructure in order to combat this problem, in addition to assessing pedestrian confusion or a lack of awareness from drivers. 

The intersections of Main Street and North Front Street, and Main Street and South Manheim Boulevard are both without a crosswalk making it difficult to cross in these locations. Additionally traffic lights for pedestrians at these intersections seem to experience a significant delay in granting pedestrians the right of way so they often walk out into the road and jaywalk in order to cross, hoping cars will yield to them. 

We at The Oracle encourage local officials to discuss and reevaluate the safety of some of our infrastructure, particularly Main Street. Traffic lights could be added to problematic intersections (i.e., Main Street and North Front Street). New crosswalks need to be added and existing ones repainted so that pedestrians can more safely cross the busy, congested main road. A blinking traffic light at the intersection by North Front Street and Plattekill Avenue may be wise given the activity in the area.

Pedestrians can also improve their own safety by staying alert when crossing Main Street, making themselves visible to drivers at any time of day when walking and only crossing when they have the right of way. 

These concerns regarding infrastructure, awareness and safety unfortunately reflect a larger, national trend. According to the Governors Highway State Association, the number of pedestrian fatalities in the United States has grown substantially faster than all other traffic deaths. The number of pedestrian fatalities increased 27 percent from 2007 to 2016, while at the same time, all other traffic deaths decreased by 14 percent.

Pedestrian deaths increased steadily as a proportion of total motor vehicle crash deaths, from 11 percent in 2007 to 16 percent in 2016. Pedestrians now account for a larger proportion of traffic fatalities than they have in the past 33 years. New York State averages nearly 300 pedestrian fatalities annually. 

Luckily over $400 million total in state funding was allocated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to repave and enhance roadways statewide. According to Cuomo’s website, $275,000 was allocated to resurface Route 299 between Route 32 (North Front Street) and the NYS Thruway Overpass (Interstate 87) in Ulster County. This funding also launched efforts to bring 15 sidewalk ramps up to standard with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 thus enhancing pedestrian safety.

Although these efforts certainly were appreciated and certainly necessary to improve the safety and conditions of our major roadways, there are plenty of other roads and walkways in town frequented by community residents where resurfacing has been grossly neglected, particularly on the north side of Main Street.

We believe effort from drivers, pedestrians and our local government is imperative to ensure the safety of everyone on the road. With problematic intersections, a lack of crosswalks and traffic congestion, Main Street creates an unsafe situation for both drivers and pedestrians. Both parties as well as local officials must place greater emphasis on attention and awareness in order to travel safely. Driving is the deadliest thing most of us will do in our lives. The weight of the responsibility of being behind the wheel must be taken seriously every time a driver steps into a vehicle.