New Yorkers have long asserted their rights to cars on city streets, identifying with Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy Barking:I’m coming here!” by a taxi that nearly hits him as he tries to cross the street.
Recent changes in street widths, curb sizes, crosswalks, lanes, and speed limits that have been made as part of the city adopted Vision Zero in 2014program designed to eliminate traffic deaths are a natural extension of this pedestrian-first mindset.
However, suburban street life is built around a landscape designed from the start to favor cars.
For example, Sunrise Highway, once a sleepy thoroughfare connecting communities along the southern tip of Long Island, has become one of the most dangerous thoroughfares in all of New York State, killing 62 people between 2016 and 2020. In Connecticut, freeway entrance ramps more than half a century old may be contributing to an alarming increase in head-on collisions. And while several New Jersey communities appear eager to align with Vision Zero, the state legislature remains hostile to implementing traffic enforcement technology.
Security risks in the suburbs are often literally built-in.
“Since the 1930s, we as a country have been trying to make safety safer by making it safer to be in a vehicle while making life more dangerous for people outside,” said Peter Norton, a University of Virginia historian and author. from the book “The fight against traffic”.
It’s the presence of high-speed, high-traffic arteries that connect dozens of communities to each other and to the business districts, office parks and retail centers they share.
Because they are both streets and roads, traffic safety advocates refer to them as “roads.”
When suburbs were new, streets were seen as efficient solutions, not problems. They efficiently moved traffic over vast distances. In 1929 The New York Times wrote about benefit that a “magnificent thoroughfare” of wide, straight roads would provide fast traffic in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Now safe street advocates say the roads are inhospitable to anything but motorized vehicles.
“We’re stuck in a dysfunctional status quo, and it’s a question of whether people are willing to impeach the underlying principles behind it,” Norton said. “I think you need to change the basics.
“The starting point was always, how do I get this vehicle from point A to point B in the fastest and most efficient way possible?” said Jennifer Homendy, president of the National Transportation Safety Board. “It’s not like I’m going to get this vehicle from point A to point B in the safest way.”
According to Eric Alexander, director of Vision Long Island, a regional planning nonprofit, suburbanites who spent days close to home during the pandemic were suddenly exposed to vehicles thundering through residential communities on freeway-wide roads.
“You can’t get people to rush through neighborhoods where people are trying to shop, walk and bike, go to an event, go to church or go to school,” Mr. Alexander said. “
Mr. Alexander tried to do what New York City did to slow traffic, which includes removing lanes and installing medians and roundabouts.
In Connecticut, a different kind of legacy infrastructure is at issue: freeway on-ramps built more than 50 years ago.
In January, Quentin Williams, 39, a three-term state legislator, was killed on his way home from a swearing-in ceremony in Hartford. Mr. Williams was driving south on State Route 9 when, shortly before the Middletown exit, his car was hit head-on by a sedan driven by a 27-year-old woman who was traveling in the wrong direction and entered the freeway over the exit ramp. Both drivers were killed.
Since 2022, there has been at least one fatal rear-end collision in Connecticut every month.
Nearly a decade earlier, the federal fatality reporting system showed that Connecticut’s death rate was the fourth highest in the nation. Transportation engineers looked at what other states are doing to make changes.
“After 2013, we started looking at signage,” said Josh Morgan, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation. The agency enlarged the one-way signs and placed them lower to the ground. It also pinpointed the conditions that led to crashes in the opposite direction; 85 percent of problem locations had adjacent entry and exit ramps.
“I can see how it happened,” said Amy Watkins, program specialist Watches CT for me, an organization that educates the public about road safety as part of a grant from the Ministry of Transport. “I live near one that I use a lot, and there’s three feet of grass separating the on and off. Do I really have to stop and think which one is the right one?”
Ms Watkins said ramp design was not the only factor to consider.
“The roads have been the same for a long time,” she said. “What’s that extra bit that makes it so bad now? I think the missing piece is the damage.”
Studies show that impairment, such as alcohol consumption, is a factor in 80 percent of rear-end crashes. This also applies to recreational marijuana, which was decriminalized in Connecticut in 2021.
In 2020, alcohol was a factor in 40 percent of Connecticut crash-related deaths, well above the national rate of 30 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Last week, the Connecticut State Police announced that both Mr. Williams and the driver who killed him had THC in their systems as well as blood alcohol levels above the legal limit.
Even before the recent increase, Connecticut had begun installing cameras and warning lights on some of the 236 exit ramps identified as problems. But that solution is too far down the chain of events, said Beth Osborne, director of the nonprofit Transportation for America.
“They’re saying, ‘We’re going to push, we’re going to add technology — we’re not going to think that our design is confusing and needs to be fixed,'” she said.
All of Connecticut’s freeways were designed half a century ago, Mr. Morgan said, and relocating the ramps would “involve major reconstruction and taking private property.” But outside the hardened infrastructure of the suburbs, it was difficult to deal with accelerated traffic.
New York City is the largest user of traffic cameras in the country, according to the Governors’ Highway Safety Program. Speed cameras can be found in 750 zones across five boroughs, and since they were switched on 24 hours a day in August 2022, over $100 million in fines have been issued. Although revenue declined in each subsequent month, the cameras reduced speeds by more than 70 percent, according to Julie Kite-Laidlaw, director of strategic initiatives for the New York City Department of Transportation.
Modeled after New York, Connecticut’s newly formed Vision Zero Council recommended enforcement cameras. But speed cameras are a tough sell in New Jersey. In fact, the New Jersey Legislature is considering a bill that would withhold New Jersey driver identification information from other states trying to enforce their speed camera laws. In practice, this would mean that a car registered in Hoboken could be speeding in Brooklyn with minimal fear of getting a ticket in the mail.
So without the benefit of enforcement cameras, Jersey City traffic engineers turned to engineering and design techniques to slow down drivers. Compared to the rest of the state, Jersey City has a low car count, good access to public transportation, and city leaders with an evangelical passion for safe streets. Jersey City’s turning point, according to Mayor Steven Fulop, came in 2018, after a decade of an average of nine fatalities each year.
They weren’t accidents, Mayor Fulop said, because with proper planning, he added, “fatal traffic accidents can be avoided.”
That year, Jersey City adopted the Vision Zero program and began planning, like New York City, to change streets, curbs, sidewalks and bike lanes.
It was a departure from “decades and decades” of how city planners and engineers worked, said Barkha Patel, director of the city’s infrastructure department.
Knowing that “people will never behave perfectly,” Ms. Patel said, Jersey City focused on a plan “designed to be forgiving. So even if there is an accident, we can design the street so that the accident does not result in someone losing their life.”
Grove Street, in the city centre, was one of the first to see the changes. To slow down cars where there is heavy pedestrian and cyclist traffic, it was converted from a two-lane street to a one-way street with a protected cycle lane on one side and a parking lane on the other. In a high-density residential area on Fairmount Avenue, the city removed a cut-through street and built a park and playground. On busy West Side Avenue, new bulging curbs at intersections give pedestrians the right-of-way and force turning drivers to slow down.
But not everyone is enthusiastic. Bus drivers in particular complained that the bumps made it difficult to navigate corners.
Francisca Sanpablo, whose El Sazon de las Americas restaurant is located on the newly narrowed Grove Street, said she is losing customers. “People call and ask, ‘Where can I park to get lunch?'” she said. “There are no seats. You get a ticket.”
Ms. Patel acknowledges this criticism. And yet, at the end of the year, Jersey City achieved its Vision Zero goal, four years ahead of schedule: The city did not report a single traffic accident for the entire year.