A grassroots push for safer ways to get Red Bank kids to school on foot or bicycle kicked off with a well-attended town hall-style meeting at the borough middle school Wednesday night.
A borough resident who makes her living as a civil engineer unveiled a map showing proposed new safe routes to each of the five schools in town. A state Department of Transportation official pledged to help the borough snag as much public money as possible for everything from driver awareness efforts to reconfigured intersections, if necessary. A police traffic safety expert gave a thumbs-up to the initiative as a complement to accident-reduction efforts. And the borough engineer spoke about how it could dovetail with existing efforts to improve walkability in the 1.8-square-mile town.
“We have a lot of momentum already,” said Jim Willis of Harrison Avenue, the principal organizer of Red Bank Safe Routes, at the conclusion of the 90-minute event, which drew several dozen residents and local officials.
The wide-ranging program included a presentation by Capt. Darren McConnell of the police department’s traffic safety unit, who said the initiative could further reduce pedestrian/car accidents, which have fallen by half in the last five years, and perhaps do the same for bike/car accidents which have proven harder to cut down.
Crash data compiled by the police showed that accidents involving pedestrians are down to an average of one per month, from almost two per month in 2004 and 2005. Bike crashes have remained relatively constant, though, at about 14 per year, the data indicate.
Pedestrian safety was particularly on the minds of some attendees. Mary Lou Burden of Locust Avenue said “there really isn’t” any safety for walkers on Shrewsbury Avenue, for example.
“You’re kind of playing chicken with your own neighbors in some respects,” she said.
McConnell and Elise Bremer-Nei, director of the DOT’s Safe Routes to School initiative, said the problem of motorists ignoring the rights of pedestrians in crosswalks is statewide and growing worse. “It’s actually spreading like wildfire,” Bremer-Nei said.
Under a federal transportation law that’s currently up for renewal, New Jersey has $5 million a year for its SRTS efforts, and a lot of competition for funds, she said. But the preliminary organization shown by Red Bank Safe Routes, and the strong turnout for last night’s meeting, augur well for the borough getting a slice of the pie, she said.
“You have a tremendous head start,” she said told the gathering. “This is amazing.”
Red Bank Safe Routes has maps and a place for volunteers to sign up at its Google Group site.[Editors notes: Jim Willis is redbankgreen‘s web/tech consultant. Also, after this article was published, Bremer-Nei wrote to clarify a reported remark:
When I said Its actually spreading like wildfire, I did not mean bad motorist behavior. The problem of motorists ignoring the rights of pedestrians in crosswalks IS statewide, but I would never say that it’s spreading like wildfire. I was referring to the pedestrian sting operations used to counter bad motorist behavior. There are many police departments applying for funds to run these sting operations across the state now, unlike a few years ago when it seemed that very few were interested.]