Lawmakers introduce bills to improve pedestrian safety

A three-bill legislative package introduced last week by Assemblymen Troy Singleton and Herb Conaway seeks to increase the fines for drivers who seriously injure or kill walkers or bicyclists, as well as motorists or pedestrians caught violating crosswalk laws, and dedicate the additional money to pedestrian safety enforcement and education efforts.

One of the bills also would divert 10 percent of all fines collected from traffic violations across the state to an existing New Jersey Department of Transportation fund that helps pay for road and sidewalk improvements for pedestrians and cyclists near schools. The bill would give preference for awarding that money to projects involving highways like Route 130 with a history of pedestrian deaths.

Since 2009, 16 pedestrians have died on Burlington County’s stretch of Route 130, earning the state highway the dubious distinction of being named by the nonprofit Tri-State Transportation Campaign as New Jersey’s most dangerous road for pedestrians each of the last five years.

Conaway, D-7th of Delanco, and Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, said their proposals would help address Route 130’s dangers as well as improve pedestrian safety statewide.

“Whether it’s Burlington or Bergen County, there’s no denying that we live in the most densely populated state in the country,” Conaway said in a statement announcing the initiative. “This presents a dilemma when it comes to balancing the desire to accommodate motorists with the need to protect pedestrians, particularly schoolchildren. I think we’ve found a healthy balance in these bills that will combine education with roadway improvements to facilitate both.”

“These bills will help raise awareness and boost education on pedestrian safety while funding improvements to make our highways more pedestrian-friendly,” added Singleton, who said the highway’s outdated design requires the DOT to study revamping the entire stretch.

“Without a plan to redesign the roadway, the many pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders and drivers who are using Route 130 every day will continue to put their lives in jeopardy,” Singleton wrote in an April 17 letter to the editor published in the Burlington County Times.

It was not immediately clear how much revenue the change would generate because the state Judiciary does not separately record the revenue municipal courts assess on traffic violations from others related to Fish and Game violations, local ordinance violations such as parking tickets and noise complaints, and criminal offenses.

Revenue for most traffic offenses are divided equally between the town and county where the offense occurred if the ticket is issued by a municipal officer. All revenue from tickets written by New Jersey State Police troopers go to the state Treasury as well as all revenue from some offenses, such as motor vehicle inspection sticker violations.

Safe Routes to School is a federally funded state program that awards grants for projects that improve pedestrian safety near schools as well as encourage students to bike or walk. Earlier this year, the DOT awarded 25 grants totaling $5.7 million, including a $113,000 grant to Edgewater Park to improve a path linking Stevenson and East Franklin avenues.

The department also awarded $4.8 million in municipal aid and transportation enhancement grants last week to Burlington County towns, including a $250,000 grant to Delran for sidewalk improvements on Route 130.

The other bills in the package would raise fines for traffic violations involving pedestrians in crosswalks from the existing range of $54 to $200 to $250 and dedicate $150 of each fine to a special fund for pedestrian safety enforcement and education programs. A portion of that fund would be reserved for efforts along priority highways, defined as a road where more than four pedestrian fatalities occurred during the previous calendar year or more than eight in the last three years.

Burlington County Sheriff Jean Stanfield recently announced that the county was seeking $250,000 in grants from the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety to help pay for officer overtime for extra traffic enforcement along Route 130 as well as defensive driving, crossing guard training, and bike and pedestrian programs in towns along the dangerous corridor.

Singleton and Conaway’s package also seeks to create a new $1,000 fine that would be imposed on motor vehicle violations that result in death or serious injuries to walkers, bicyclists, wheelchair operators or road construction workers. The fine would be in addition to any existing fine or penalty for the violation, and judges would be given the discretion to order violators to serve up to 25 days in jail and suspend their driver’s license for up to six months.

Increasing the penalties for careless drivers who injure or kill walkers and other so-called “vulnerable users” was one of the recommendations of the Tri-State Campaign in its most recent report on New Jersey’s most dangerous roads for pedestrians. The group, which advocates for transportation improvements in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, also called for more funding for bicycle and walking trails.

Matthew Norris, South Jersey advocate for the campaign, declined to comment on the specifics of three bills introduced by Singleton and Conaway, but he said the campaign was encouraged that the lawmakers were interested in addressing the issue.

“We support their efforts to try to make roads safer, especially Route 130,” Norris said. “Any pedestrian death is too many, but there are far too many on Route 130.”

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