SOMERVILLE, NJ - Borough Police Officer John Covert said it "breaks his heart" whenever he responds to a call that involves a pedestrian hit by a car, all too common on Main Street and elsewhere, according to statistics compiled by NJ Division of Highway Traffic Safety data.

Somerville’s thriving downtown area generates significant foot traffic - pedestrians, joggers, people walking dogs, people talking on phones, and cyclists, all of which increases the likelihood that someone will be struck by a car or truck, according to Steve Peter, Borough Council president.

The resident population also swells weekdays with the arrival of more than 1.500 Somerset County employees who work at various county buildings, many of whom hit the streets during the lunch hour, further increasing the chances of a misstep.

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From 2011 through 2015, there were 67 crashes involving pedestrians or cyclists in Somerville. Two pedestrians were killed, one was left incapacitated and another 38 were injured as a result of these crashes, according to the state agency. One-third of the pedestrian crashes occurred on Route 28 (Main Street), the heart of Somerville’s downtown.

The Somerville Police Department is partnering with RideWise Transportation Management Association to conduct a Street Smart NJ campaign during June. The public education campaign was formally introduced yesterday outside Borough Hall; it seeks to reduce pedestrian-vehicle crashes in the borough.

Street Smart NJ is a statewide public education, awareness, and behavioral change campaign developed by the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA).

“Street Smart NJ helps make our roads safer for everyone,” said Somerset County Freeholder Director Peter Palmer, Chair of the NJTPA Board of Trustees and a member of the RideWise Board of Directors. “It’s also good for the local economy in downtowns like Somerville’s. When people feel safe they are more likely to walk or bike in our business districts, visiting our local shops and restaurants.”

Street Smart NJ promotes safe travel behavior through education and law enforcement focused on pedestrian safety. Street Smart NJ responds to New Jersey’s designation as a “focus” state by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration because of its relatively high rate of fatal pedestrian crashes compared to other areas of the country. In 2015, there were 170 pedestrian fatalities in New Jersey – 30.2 percent of all traffic fatalities in the state.

Throughout the month of June, the Somerville Police Department will be doubling down on pedestrian safety by educating the public and enforcing the law.

“It is our goal at the Somerville Police Department to make the area as safe as possible, for both pedestrians and motor vehicles,” Covert said.

The theme of the public education program is "Check Your Vital Signs:

- Stop for Pedestrians;

- Wait for the Walk;

- Obey Speed Limits;

- Use Crosswalks;

- Heads Up, Phones Down.

Mary Murphy, executive director of the NJTPA said distracted driving caused by motorists' use of cell phones are a major factor in accidents, noting that pedestrians are also guilty of distracted walking, not paying attention when crossing the streets because they are texting, reading a text or engrossed in conversation.

The Street Smart NJ campaign has been proven effective. Evaluations of campaigns in 2016 found a 40 percent reduction in drivers failing to yield to crossing pedestrians or cyclists and a 28 percent reduction in pedestrians jaywalking or crossing against the signal.

In collaboration with community partners, such as RideWise TMA and the Downtown Somerville Alliance, police will be distributing educational materials at crash-prone intersections. In addition to these safety tip cards, there will be street signs, posters and other informational items on display in storefronts and around the borough, and messages will be shared online through e-blasts and social media.

More than 50 municipalities, universities and agencies have partnered with Street Smart NJ to improve pedestrian safety in New Jersey. Cross County Connections Transportation Management Association is conducting a campaign along the Route 130 corridor in Burlington City, Delran and Cinnaminson this month and HART TMA has an ongoing campaign in Lambertville. Other recent campaigns include the Bloomfield Avenue corridor in Essex County, the Borough of Highlands and Cranford Township, all coordinated with the help of EZ Ride TMA.

Businesses, organizations, and individuals interested in promoting the Street Smart NJ message in Somerville should contact Kristen Harding at 908-704-1011 or kristen@ridewise.org. To learn more about the campaign, visit bestreetsmartnj.org, Facebook (StreetSmartNJ), or Twitter (@njstreetsmart).