By David Levinsky - www.phillyburbs.com
New Jersey’s most dangerous road for pedestrians quickly has become one of its most heavily enforced.
A total of 1,262 tickets and warnings were issued by officers on Route 130 in the first two weeks of a state and county law enforcement crackdown on speeding and other illegal driving behaviors that make Route 130 dangerous for pedestrians, Burlington County Sheriff Jean Stanfield said Monday.
Dubbed Operation 130 Safe Passage, the crackdown began a month ago and has resulted in a noticeable increase in police along the nearly 23-mile corridor through 12 county towns as well as a dramatic uptick in traffic stops.
“And we have seen some decline in the behaviors that we are trying to change on the road, including speeding, cellphone use and other aggressive driving,” Stanfield said Monday. “We’re also seeing pedestrians changing some of their behaviors.”
The 18-month crackdown kicked off May 13 and features aggressive enforcement on the highway by sheriff’s officers and all 12 municipal police departments along the corridor. The extra police patrols are being funded with $225,000 from
the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety.
On Monday, officers targeted Burlington City’s school zone, where the speed limit is reduced during morning and afternoon hours when students cross the state highway. In one hour, officers gave out 30 tickets, Stanfield said.
“We want it to be a deterrent and to change behavior on the roadway to make it safer,” she said. “We want motorists to know we are out there and will be out there for a long period of time, targeting different problem areas and different behaviors as we go.”
In addition to the ongoing crackdown, pedestrian safety advocates cheered action by state lawmakers who voted Monday to release a pair of bills from committee that seek to boost safety on Route 130 and other roads with high pedestrian death tolls.
Sponsored by 7th Legislative District Democrats Herb Conaway and Troy Singleton, the bills seek to increase fines for drivers who seriously injure or kill walkers or bicyclists as well as motorists or pedestrians caught violating crosswalk laws. The additional money would be dedicated to pedestrian safety and education efforts.
One of the measures also would divert 10 percent of all fines collected from traffic violations across the state to a New Jersey Department of Transportation fund that helps pay for road and sidewalk improvements for pedestrians and cyclists near schools.
Since 2009, 16 pedestrians have died on Burlington County’s stretch of Route 130, earning the 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.
“It’s not a very happy distinction to have,” Conaway said Monday while testifying on the bills before the Assembly Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee. “We need to take some action to turn back these statistics.”
Fines for traffic violations involving pedestrians in crosswalks range from $54 to $200. Conaway and Singleton’s bill would increase them to $250 and dedicate $150 of each fine to a special fund for pedestrian safety enforcement and education programs. A portion of that would be reserved for efforts targeting roads where more than four pedestrian fatalities occurred during the previous calendar year or more than eight in the last three years.
Priority also would be given to those roads to receive money from the DOT’s Safe Routes to Schools program, which would receive a boost in funding through the diversion of 10 percent of all fines collected from traffic violations across the state.
Currently, revenue for most traffic offenses is 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.
Conaway said giving priority status for funding improvements and extra enforcement on dangerous roads such as Route 130 was important.
“It’s only common sense that we should get after these roadways that have the most problems,” he said.
Also testifying in support of both measures was Jenna Chernetz, New Jersey advocate with the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, who told lawmakers that traffic dangers have resulted in a steady decline in the number of students walking or biking to schools.
“This bill would provide a much-needed boost to the (Safe Routes to Schools) program,” Chernetz said.
The Assembly committee voted to release both measures Monday morning.
Sen. Diane Allen, R-7th of Edgewater Park, has sponsored both bills in the state Senate, where they are pending before the chamber’s Transportation Committee.