Morristown prides itself on having one of New Jersey’s most walkable downtowns. So the numbers are sobering:
Every 15 days, on average, someone here was struck by a motor vehicle in 2017. Some 74 pedestrians were clipped during a three-year span starting in 2015.
Authorities still are investigating a hit-and-run case that killed a Honduran immigrant on Martin Luther King Avenue last summer.
To improve safety, town officials, police and transportation agencies on Wednesday announced a month-long “Street Smart” campaign to promote safer interactions between motorists and pedestrians.
“The goals of this campaign are simple. We want to change behaviors to reduce crashes and prevent injuries and fatalities on our roads,” said Dan Callas, president of the nonprofit TransOptions.
TransOptions is administering a $20,000 grant to Morristown police from the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety. The money will support police overtime and leaflets and signs around town — cautioning drivers to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, and reminding pedestrians not to jaywalk.
While some fines will be issued, police plan to focus on educating the public, said Police Sgt. Brian LaBarre.
“We want to make sure that we’re striking a balance between making the town safe for pedestrians, and also improving that traffic flow… It isn’t a ticket blitz of any kind,” LaBarre said at a press conference on the steps of town hall.
When they observe poor judgment by motorists or pedestrians, officers may issue leaflets spelling out the rules of the road. And when they see people doing the right thing, police may reinforce that behavior by handing out coupons for discounts and freebies from local businesses.
A similar approach has helped get bicyclists off sidewalks, Mayor Tim Dougherty said. Police have issued about 100 informational tickets in a drive launched last fall by town Public Safety Director Michael Corcoran Jr., the mayor said.
This marks the third year TransOptions and the town have joined forces. Eighty communities have taken part since Street Smart began in 2013.
Some 869 pedestrians–one every two days–were killed on New Jersey roads between 2014 and 2018, according to TransOptions.
Citing figures from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Callas said the average nonfatal crash involving pedestrians results in $61,000 of medical bills and $131,000 in lost work.
Extrapolating those numbers, he estimated accidents involving pedestrians had an $887 million impact on the Garden State in 2017.
The problem is a two-way street, Dougherty asserted.
Morristown statistics from 2017 indicate 39 percent of crashes involving pedestrians stemmed from drivers failing to yield to them; 34 percent of victims were hit in a crosswalk.
Yet he also observes many people dashing through traffic.
“Getting out of a car in the middle of the street and darting across the street with a 6-year-old is not the right way to do it. And I see it often,” said the mayor.
Pedestrians should use crosswalks, and get off their phones while crossing, Dougherty said.
“You should never be in a hurry to get across the street to get to a restaurant or a store or to an appointment. That’s going to put your life at risk.”
Beenie’s Ice Cream, Green Point Juicery, Pomodoro Ristorante, SmartWorld Coffee, Swiss Chalet Bakery & Café, the Mayo Performing Arts Center and Atlantic Health are helping with the Street Smart campaign, either through special promotions or by distributing information, LaBarre said.
Jennifer Wehring of the Morristown Partnership was there representing local businesses.
State Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco (R-25th Dist.) also was on hand to commend the efforts. He has started discussions with Councilman Stefan Armington, also present on Wednesday, and with representatives of Morris Township and Morris County to identify safe regional routes for cyclists.
The press conference was punctuated by an emotional plea from a passerby, who complained about a broken wrist and related trauma she attributed to tripping over a raised grating in a crosswalk near the Morristown Green last November.
It’s a hazard that still has not been addressed, said Kathleen Fox-Taylor, a Mine Hill resident who said she works in Morristown as an administrative assistant.
Dougherty said he was unaware of the situation and would explore it further.