By KATHY CHANG
METUCHEN — For years, Metuchen has been a model in pursuing and pushing forward on pedestrian and motor vehicle safety initiatives, from the pedestrian orange flags at crosswalks to the recent reduction of the speed limit on Grove Avenue.
In March, the borough will add yet another campaign as one of the 12 municipalities selected for phase two of the 2016 New Jersey Transportation Planning Authority’s (NJTPA) Street Smart New Jersey drive for pedestrian safety education and enforcement.
James Galeota, chair of the Traffic and Transportation Committee, said this is a unique opportunity for Metuchen to establish a proven program centered on changing behavior both of pedestrians and motorists.
Jeffrey Perlman, manager of environmental planning and mobility programs at the NJTPA, said the campaign uses paid advertising coupled with grassroots public awareness efforts and law enforcement to address pedestrian safety.
The campaign has a three-pronged approach of high-visibility law enforcement, grassroots public outreach, and media messaging.
“Pedestrian safety in New Jersey as well as nationally is particularly a big issue,” he said. “The Federal Highway [Administration] has identified New Jersey as a focus area. We have an elevated number of pedestrian injuries and fatalities higher than the national average, so we, the NJTPA, is responding to that charge from the Federal Highway [Administration] with the campaign.”
Galeota noted that the percentage of incidents in marked crosswalks in Metuchen is higher than the state average.
“Timing [of this campaign] is very positive for us,” he said.
Perlman said the campaign kicked off in 2013 in five northern New Jersey communities with a collaborative effort between public, private and nonprofit organizations.
“We want to change pedestrian and motorists’ behaviors as a result to reduce the number of incidents of pedestrian injury and death,” he said, adding education and increased enforcement are keys to the process.
Perlman said what they will be doing in Metuchen in March will set standards that other municipalities can adopt in the near future.
Perlman said phase one of the campaign was a success.
“We did see changes in behavior in the locations in which we were out there spreading messages coupled with law enforcement and [observed] significant reductions in [reckless] behaviors,” he said.
Perlman said the campaign includes a number of safety messages — two messages directed toward drivers — “Obey Speed Limit” and Stop for Pedestrians” — and two messages directed towards pedestrians — “Use the Crosswalks” and to wait for the crosswalk signal to cross the street.
With phase two of the campaign, the NJTPA has added a fifth message directed at distraction — “Don’t be on your cell phone while driving and walking.”
“Over the years literature has shown that the use of cell phones is contributing to a lot of crashes and this [message] is the realization of that,” he said.
Phase two of the four-week campaign kicks off on March 7.
Perlman said they will use a variety of different media outlets for the education component to push the message. He said the NJTPA is funding the signage at the train station.
“A number of buses will be wrapped with the messages,” he said, adding that further material including 18- by 30-inch signposts with the messages, tent cards and tip cards will be given to the borough to be distributed to the public. Perlman said tent cards can be given out to the business community for distribution.
Phase two of the campaign will include a social media and digital component, which Perlman said is new.
He said a consultant will visit the Metuchen community twice in March helping to hand out tip cards to pedestrians and work with borough officials on the best locations to target.
The consultant will be filming a particular intersection before and after the campaign to measure pedestrian and motorist movements to see how behaviors have changed, and a final report will be given to the borough.
Police Cpl. Kenny Bauer, traffic safety bureau officer, said when he read about the program and saw the success stories and the statistics, he said he and Police Chief David Irizarry agreed that it was something Metuchen needed.
“The majority of my complaints are all about pedestrians almost getting struck by vehicles,” he said. “It’s not just pedestrians struck by vehicles, it’s also pedestrians violating the laws.”
Bauer said the department will not only provide enforcement, but also be part of the education component.
“We will be out there with the auxiliary officers handing out [tip cards during] rush-hour time periods,” he said.
Bauer said pedestrians improperly going against crosswalks have been an issue at Main Street and Middlesex Avenue. He said the borough’s message board will promote the campaign as well.
For added enforcement, Bauer said the officers will be conducting stops in crosswalks where officers in plain clothes will cross in hot spots in the borough looking for violations.
“We have done this before, and I think on Grove Avenue in a one-hour stretch, we stopped 25 to 30 cars for violations,” he said adding that the department is strict on pedestrians not utilizing crosswalks, which could lead to a $54 fine.
Bauer said the campaign is not just for March, but is designed so that it can be done periodically and with additional grants that can aid in the effort.
“It’s all about safety and the prevention of someone getting killed,” he said noting that they do not want to see what happened on Grove Avenue a couple of years ago happen again.
In November 2013, a 75-year-old man was killed while attempting to traverse a crosswalk at Christol Street and Grove Avenue.
In Mayor Peter Cammarano’s reorganization speech in January he said a priority this year is to continue pedestrian safety measures.
“When you drive through Metuchen, you are secondary to bikers and pedestrians,” he said.
The mayor said “strict” enforcement is unfortunately the only way someone is going to learn, adding that he does like the balanced approach of the campaign.
Councilwoman Dorothy Rasmussen said she was concerned about reaching the commuters who do not live in Metuchen, who she said have been part of the problem.
Perlman said one of the pilot municipalities is Woodbridge Township, and the Metropark Train Station in Iselin will be outfitted with campaign literature.
“Our social media campaign will probably cover most of Middlesex County in its entirety,” he said.
Woodbridge Township was selected in phase one of the campaign in 2013 and again was selected for phase two of the campaign. Woodbridge officials will announce the program on March 11 at 11 a.m. on Main Street at the New Jersey Transit Platform pedestrian crossing.
“As part of the 2016 Street Smart campaign, the Woodbridge Police Department will be enforcing pedestrian laws for the safety of all roadway users,” said John Hagerty, communications director for the township.
He said police officers — uniformed and in plain clothes — will target enforcement efforts on motorists who fail to obey New Jersey’s laws requiring them to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk, as well as pedestrians who jaywalk or violate traffic safety rules and regulations.
The department’s Traffic Enforcement will also address speeding, illegal turns, and distracted and inattentive driving and walking, which contribute to pedestrian-motor vehicle crashes, Hagerty said.
The Woodbridge Police Department has implemented a proactive stance utilizing the “Cops in Crosswalk” program, conducting “Ped-Decoy” aka “Cops in the Crosswalk” details in the various downtown shopping areas and popular walking paths with a high volume of pedestrian activity and vehicle traffic.
Additionally, the department’s Pedestrian Awareness, Education & Enforcement “Street Smart” Program has worked hundreds of man-hours on enforcement patrols during peak pedestrian travel times, issuing citations to motorists who fail to stop for pedestrians and for distracted driving.
Perlman said the NJTPA will be holding a regional press event on March 8 at Union County College in Elizabeth while other municipalities are holding their local press events.
The Metuchen kickoff of the campaign will be held on March 4 at 5 p.m. at Council Chambers and, weather permitting, members of the Traffic and Transportation Committee, law enforcement and others will walk down Main Street and hand out tip cards.