NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – The Street Smart Pedestrian Safety Campaign has started in New Providence. The campaign focuses on educating both drivers and pedestrians about safe behaviors in order to avoid pedestrian-related traffic incidents. The campaign is run by a non-profit transportation organization, TransOptions, along with the New Providence Police Department and the Borough Council. The campaign kick-off event took place on Monday, April 9 prior to the council meeting.

Union County Freeholders Angel Estrada and Bette Jane Kowalski were present at the event along with representatives of the borough administration and the New Providence Police Department in addition to representatives of TransOptions and the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority.

Dan Callas, President of TransOptions, explained that the Street Smart is a grassroot statewide public awareness campaign focusing on two main aspects: high-visibility and law enforcement as well as education. He noted that the Federal Highway Administration has identified New Jersey as a focus state due to its high rate of pedestrian traffic injuries and fatalities. Approximately 5,000 pedestrians are injured and 150 killed in motor vehicle accidents annually in New Jersey. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 828 pedestrians were killed and more than 17,000 were injured in New Jersey from 2013 through 2017. This translates into one death per every 2.4 days and 11 injuries daily, Callas said and noted that the only acceptable number is zero.

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TransOptions will provide educational material, including a Traffic Safety Town, which is a gym size streetscape educating children how to safely interact in traffic. Children will have the opportunity to experience traffic from the perspective of the driver and that of the pedestrian, Callas said. The organization will also educate young drivers and senior citizens with regard to safe driving practices and pedestrian safety.

TransOptions has already begun to reach out to the local business community distributing educational material, including posters and tip cards. The organization has already completed a round of observations of busy intersections in town. Another round of observations will take place at the end of the campaign in order to evaluate its effectiveness.

The campaign slogan “Check Your Vital Signs” is geared towards both drivers and pedestrians. Two signs “stop for pedestrian” and “obey speed limits” alert drivers while “wait for the walk” and “use crosswalks” draws the attention of pedestrians. The campaign coincides with Distracted Driving Awareness month and the fifth sign “heads up, phones down” alerts both the drivers and pedestrians. Callas noted that the signs will be visible throughout the borough and many businesses are posting them on their store windows.

Mayor Al Morgan noted that “education is the best way to start.” He explained that the borough has tried crosswalks, flags, lights, and other things for decades now, but nothing seems to quite catch on. A lot has to do with what TransOptions is trying to do which is to educate the public, he said. “You are bringing the police, the schools, the pedestrians and the drivers all together to learn the same things,” he said to TransOptions representatives. In New Providence there have been many incidents leading to accidents when people just don’t pay attention, he lamented. “Now we can educate the people about the ramifications of not following the rules or the signs,” he said.

Between 2014 and 2016 there were 13 traffic accidents involving pedestrians in New Providence, Police Chief Anthony Buccelli said. “The number of incidents is much too high.” The New Providence Police Department received a grant from the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety to focus on safe walking and driving in the community. With the help of the Street Smart campaign the police department will be enhancing traffic safety education and enforcing traffic rules. There are much too many incidents of distracted drivers and the borough police will try to eliminate that the best they can, Buccelli said. “Our goal is to increase positive interaction in our community and increase awareness of traffic safety laws,” he added.

Callas emphasized that Street Smart campaigns are made possible by the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority which provides the funding for the educational outreach efforts which are “crucial” to this campaign. The Chairman of the North New Jersey Transportation Planning Authority Board of Trustees is Union County Freeholder Estrada.

“I think this is a great campaign,” Estrada said. He thanked New Providence and TransOptions for undertaking the public education campaign. The campaign comes at a great time coinciding with Distracted Drivers Awareness month of April. He said that he is excited to see that the Street Smart campaign has expanded to more communities and towns in Union County and across the state. New Providence is the fifth town in Union County to participate in the Street Smart program which started in 2013. The other towns include Summit, Rahway, Elizabeth and Cranford. “I hope many more will join this effort,” he said.

In those communities where the campaign took place in 2016 there was a 28 percent reduction in jaywalking or pedestrians crossing the street against the light and a 40 percent reduction of drivers failing to yield for pedestrians or bikers crossing the street, Estrada said. Next year the Transportation Authority is planning to update its messaging boards and educational material in order to reach even more people. In addition to educating pedestrians and drivers the Transportation Authority is looking for feedback from the public in order to make any adjustments that could provide a safer traffic experience for all, he said.

Zenobia Fields, Director of the Department of Planning at the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, explained the engineering side of the campaign. “We are in charge of getting federal funding to make transportation investments. What better investment than saving lives,” she said. Safety is one of the top priorities the Transportation Authority is looking for. “When you are looking for saving lives, we are looking at about over $160 million worth of safety improvements,” she said. These funds are spread across 130 projects of which 10 are in Union County. One of the safety projects is the Mountain Avenue, Glenside Road and South Street intersection. The Jersey Transportation Authority is looking to update the traffic signal at that intersection among other local projects, such as sidewalk improvements and the addition of bike lanes. The local safety projects combine education, law enforcement as well as engineering aspects for improved traffic safety, she said.