By Kenny Walter
Spring has arrived and so have the runners, the walkers and the bike riders.
However, for many who are now taking advantage of the outdoor season, their forms of exercise do come with some risks.
Today, many are increasingly distracted in the digital age by their phones, which is particularly problematic when they are jogging, walking or biking on roads with high traffic.
“Pedestrians have the right of way on the sidewalk, but by the same token, I don’t think it’s appropriate for a cyclist to enter into the right of way, just taking it for granted that a motor vehicle will yield to them,” Fair Haven Mayor Benjamin Lucarelli said. “Everybody who is utilizing the roadway really should be conscious of their responsibilities.
“The other problem is when you have both ear buds in, people have a tendency to really tune out the entire world around them. They may be able to see what is in front of them down the road, but they are no longer conscious of 360 degrees and that’s a real problem.”
Lucarelli said one of the main issues with the increasing reliance on smart phones is people usually are walking, biking or even driving with headphones on.
“In Europe and London, I think they have outlawed the use of ear buds by cyclists, and in Paris, they are kind of doing the same thing,” he said.
Lucarelli said the advent of the smart phone is leading to people immediately responding to receiving a message, which is distracting many.
“There seems to be this social contract that your attention and focus can be drawn away at any given moment and the need to instantaneously respond,” he said. “That is kind of the core of where this problem comes from.
“People distracted, texting while walking, that’s an issue. How you overcome that I don’t know.”
Pedestrian safety is especially a concern for Lucarelli after Fair Haven councilman Jerome Koch was tragically killed in 2014 after being struck by a car while riding a bicycle on River Road.
Since Koch’s death, Lucarelli has advocated for a county-wide bike lane plan to enhance safety for pedestrians and bikers and bike lanes have already been created. Also formal bike lanes were created on Rumson Road from Avenue of Two Rivers west to Buena Vista Avenue, across Buena Vista, down Ridge Road to Alderbrook in Little Silver.
“When the bike lanes are present, the automobiles have slowed down, which makes things just safer for everybody,” Lucarelli said.
Bike lanes have also been implemented in Woodbridge.
“We want people to get off the main roads and get on the more residential and side streets,” Woodbridge Sgt. Eric Nelson, the town’s traffic unit supervisor, said. “It will advise people of a safer route.”
Nelson said that the department urges both pedestrians and motorists to be more aware of their surroundings.
“People need to be on the lookout for distracted pedestrians and bikes and drivers should be on the lookout for distracted pedestrians and bicyclists,” Nelson said. “Pedestrians should use common sense when accessing their electronic devices.”
While bikers and runners on their own are becoming increasingly distracted, many are joining exercise groups and are taught safety lessons.
David Lee, president of the Jersey Shore Touring Society, explained that safety is a major emphasis for his biking club that is based in Red Bank.
“We’re basically a biking club, based primarily on riding with friends,” Lee said. “We are not a racing club and safety is important to us. We try to be as safe as we can.”
According to Lee, the simplest thing a biker can do is obey all traffic laws. He also said distracted drivers might be a bigger cause of accidents than distracted bikers.
“For the most part, people don’t ride with their cell phones or with ear phones in their ears,” Lee said. “Distracted driving is more of a problem than distracted bicycle riding.
“I would say about 90 percent of the people in cars realize bicycles aren’t as fast and are careful around us. It is the 10 percent who think they rule the road who are the ones you worry about.”
Long Branch Mayor Adam Schneider, an avid biker and runner, said he sees too many people distracted while exercising.
“I take it personally, being someone who bikes and runs,” he said. “It’s been years since I’ve used headphones running.
“You go into a different mental state when you are listening to music when you’re running.”
Schneider said while he personally does not use headphones while running, he is especially against bikers who are using headphones.
“People like the beat and the noise and the music while they’re running but I see a lot of people distracted,” he said. “You don’t hear what’s going on.
“Biking, I think, you are out of your mind if you wear headphones. You are playing in traffic.”
While he would urge bikers and even runners from refraining from using headphones, Schneider said he is not in favor of the government being able to ban the use of headphones in these situations, something that has been proposed in Massachusetts, Delaware, Rhode Island and Maryland. There also has been a recent bill proposed in New Jersey that would prohibit texting while walking.
According to the Governors Highway Safety Association’s Spotlight on Highway Safety report using preliminary data for the first six months of 2015, there was a 10 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities involving motor vehicle accidents across the country in the first half of 2015 when compared to 2014.
“The number of pedestrian fatalities in the United States increased 19 percent from 2009 to 2014, a period in which total traffic deaths decreased by about 4 percent,” the report states. “In fact, pedestrians now account for the largest proportion of traffic fatalities recorded in the past 25 years.”
The report explains there are several factors leading to the increase of pedestrian deaths, including the use of cell phones.
“Many factors contribute to changes in the number pedestrian fatalities, including economic conditions, demographics, weather conditions, fuel prices, the amount of motor vehicle travel, and the amount of time people spend walking.
“A more recent contributing factor may be the growing use of cell phones while walking, which can be a significant source of distraction for pedestrians.”
In 2014, New Jersey had a pedestrian fatality rate of 1.88 deaths per 100,000 people, which ranked as the 10th highest among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Cait Boyd, an avid runner who grew up in Freehold Township, said drivers are more distracted sometimes during the week than others.
“If I go for a run at like 6 o’clock at night, people won’t be looking for any pedestrians, they will just be looking to get home,” Boyd said. “If it is a Saturday morning, people are much more likely to be aware that there are people out.”
Boyd, who currently lives in Asbury Park, said she uses headphones while she runs but is always cognizant of her surroundings.
“I don’t run with them so loud that I can’t hear outside noises. I can still hear when cars are approaching, I can still hear when someone is behind you and is going to be running faster than me.
“Just running in general, you just tend to zone out.”
However, there was a time when Boyd was a little more distracted as a runner.
“When I was in college, I was out running and I didn’t notice an orange cone on the sidewalk and I took about three steps into wet cement,” she said. “The first one I was like ‘ew what is this’ and then I realized it was wet cement and ran back into the road.”