JFK Blvd. is notorious for vehicle accidents. Last year, a car jumped a curb and fatally struck two Union City teens on the boulevard at 26th Street. In April of 2016, a pickup truck fatally struck David Porto, 43, on the boulevard between 30th and 31st streets in Bayonne.
Officials publicly kicked off the safety campaign Nov. 1. at Jersey City's Lincoln Park. Officers will watch for speeders and people going through traffic lights, among other possible violations.
The crackdown is known as the “Street Smart Hudson County” campaign from the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority.
Concurrently, the Hudson County Transportation Management Association will hold a public education campaign to increase pedestrian safety. This will include distributing palm cards with Street Smart's message to students at schools near the intersections.
The most dangerous spots are:
Kennedy Blvd. and 25th Street in Bayonne,
Kennedy Blvd. and Lexington Ave in Jersey City,
Kennedy Blvd. and 36th Street in Union City,
Kennedy Blvd. and 51st Street in West New York,
Kennedy Blvd. and 91st Street in North Bergen. (Bergen Boulevard merges with JFK around 91st Street, bringing additional traffic from nearby Fairview.)
It will fall upon the different towns to patrol the areas, as well as the county sheriff’s office.
“A survey we did between 2014 and 2016 revealed that there were 198 pedestrians involved in accidents along Kennedy Blvd.” – Tom DeGise.
Lamenting more recent vehicular fatalities in Jersey City, including 8-year-old Jerry Grant on Grove Street last month, Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise called them “very grim reminders of the problem we're trying to deal with here today.”
“A survey we did between 2014 and 2016 revealed that there were 198 pedestrians that were involved in accidents along Kennedy Blvd.,” DeGise told attendees. “Ten fatalities. If we heed the messages that we're talking today, we can start whittling that number down, and then hopefully bring it down to zero.”
He urged three “common sense” actions for drivers and pedestrians: obeying the speed limit, stopping when seeing pedestrians crossing, and for pedestrians, using crosswalks to navigate the street.
“There's nobody more important than the children of our communities,” said Union City Chief Richard Molinari. “We have to do everything we can to protect them, but we need their cooperation and everybody's cooperation. We need everybody's attention.”
“We have been involved in Safe Streets for many years,” said Jersey City Deputy Chief Joe Connors. “We chose the boulevard and Lexington Avenue because we had 15 pedestrians struck there in the last three years.”
“Law enforcement faces an awful lot. We face something that nobody's faced, in the 21st Century,” Connors said, before brandishing a smartphone. “This is like walking around with a flatscreen TV in front of you. Not only drivers, but pedestrians and children that are walking in the streets and not paying attention.”
“Our traffic units, last year, gave in excess of 20,000 moving motor vehicle citations,” said North Bergen Police Chief Robert Dowd. “Did it fix anything? Unfortunately, the answer is no. This boulevard, when it was created, it wasn't designed for the vehicular traffic we have today, and the vehicles.”
Bayonne Deputy Police Chief Robert Geisler explained why the city chose 25th Street and Kennedy Blvd as its target intersection. In addition to having high vehicle and pedestrian traffic, the area also has a large supermarket, grammar school, and public high school nearby. “Through this program, we hope to utilize both education and enhanced enforcement to make the entire community aware of this program, and keep the entire community safe,” Geisler said.
“We will be doing a lot of enforcing, and we will be out there every day and night,” said West New York Sgt. Andres Rana.
What else can be done?
Stretching around 14 and a half miles, from Bayonne's southern tip to the Bergen County line, JFK Boulevard has always had a negative reputation. The Tri-State Transportation Campaign named it the most dangerous road in Hudson County in 2011. In a three year analysis from 2012 to 2014, the campaign also found that the Boulevard had the highest number of deaths of any road in the county.
So is there more than just increased enforcement that can be done to improve JFK's safety?
Since 2004, the NJTPA has spent 2.5 million on projects along the Boulevard via a safety program. These included installing pedestrian countdown signals, mid-traffic signals, and pavement markings on the road. The TPA has also approved another $4.4 million for safety projects for the boulevard in Jersey City.
As some traffic lights and walk signals on JFK Blvd. can be mistimed, especially around Journal Square, DeGise said that issue is a work in progress.
“We worked with the towns to stagger the lights to slow them down,” he said, after the meeting. “It used to be that if you were going the speed limit on Kennedy Boulevard, you could probably go through six lights, long as there wasn't any traffic in your way. We adjusted it now so you can only go about four lights. We're always adjusting them.”
Some areas of JFK can be wider than others, which take more time to cross and leave one more susceptible to being hit by a car.
NJTPA Director of Communications David Behrend floated ideas to address safety on a wide boulevard after the meeting. He pointed to Broad Street in Newark, where they installed pedestrian islands a few years ago. Another idea he mentioned was a “road diet,” where roads are narrowed.
“It depends on the balance the community is looking for in terms of being able to move cars on the road and making the road safe to cross,” Behrend said.”
But in the end, Behrend said, “what we find is most important for safety is the behavior of the drivers and the pedestrians.”
Hannington Dia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org