It was one of those mild afternoons in the beginning of the year that fooled you into thinking that spring had arrived early. Jacob Wilt, a fourth-year metal-smithing major at SUNY New Paltz, pointed his longboard towards the intersection at Main and Chestnut Street, enjoying the weather. He rolled down the right lane and noticed a car approaching from the rear. As Wilt absent-mindedly rolled towards a red traffic light, he veered left, unaware that the vehicle was now right behind him.
Wilt’s shoulder collided with a side-mirror, cracking it clean-off. He stumbled forward, and landed on his feet, before dashing towards the middle of the intersection after his run-away board. Thankfully, the pedestrian-crossing sign flashed to life simultaneously, saving him from a deadlier fate.
Over the past two years, the number of pedestrians that are hit by vehicles has nearly doubled, according to a report from the New Paltz Police Department.
According to an article written by Hudson Valley One (HV1), Lieutenant Robert Lucchesi reported that these figures jumped from 11 pedestrians in 2018 to 22 in 2019. This report lumps both pedestrian and cyclist figures together, according to HV1.
Not every pedestrian, who has been hit on Main Street, has shared Wilt’s good fortune. HV1 reported that, on November 5, 2018, an 86-year old man was killed in the crosswalk on Main Street, near the intersection at Joalyn Road. Although Main Street runs through the heart of the pedestrian-oriented village, it is owned by New York State. To add or alter safety features, like crosswalks and speed-limits, the village needs permission from the Department of Transportation (DOT). Mayor Tim Rogers explained that, so far, the DOT hasn’t been willing to help.
“I feel like, historically the DOT is focused on getting vehicles from their highway as fast as possible, but we have to be mindful of how [pedestrians] move about,” Rogers said. “We want to encourage people to walk more and use cars less, but they have to feel safe.”
Rogers noted that there are no crosswalks between S. Manheim Boulevard and Cherry Hill Road. That stretch of street is home to a number of popular businesses that are frequented by visitors and residents alike, including the New Paltz Youth Center, Walgreens, McDonald’s and Asian Fusion. He explained that the village hopes to install a number of raised crosswalks in high-traffic areas like Church and Prospect Street. In addition, they want to establish a school zone in front of the New Paltz Middle School and decrease the Main Street speed limit to 25 miles-per-hour.
As spring break and warm weather steadily approaches, the concern is amplified by the inevitable influx of tourism. In 2017, Gov. Andrew Cuomo began work on the Empire State Rail Trail: 750 miles of trails spanning from New York City to Albany, Buffalo and Canada, according to the New York State website. With 400 miles already completed, increased traffic and pedestrians presence will continue to complicate street safety as the village searches for solutions.