With no pedestrian deaths since 2018, Hoboken sets example for NJ
HOBOKEN — One-third of the area of this booming Hudson County city is public land, but because it is not a major metropolis like New York or Philadelphia, officials do not always have the resources to redesign its streets and sidewalks to put pedestrians first.
So in the last several years, the task of finding constructive ways to protect those walking down and across Hoboken's streets has fallen to Ryan Sharp, the city's director of transportation and parking.
What Sharp's department has been coming up with seems to be working: Under a "Vision Zero" initiative similar to NYC's concept, no pedestrian fatalities have been recorded in Hoboken in the last four years.
Severe traffic injuries have also declined in that time, but Sharp said there is still a lot of work to do to reach the program's goal of eliminating serious incidents altogether by the year 2030.
In Hoboken, as Sharp puts it, everyone has to be a pedestrian at some point, and so there has been widespread public support for engineering and other policies over a number of years.
But also, "seconds matter" when taking into account reaction times for both walkers and drivers, so Sharp said efforts continue to lower the citywide speed limit — because no matter what public policy accomplishes, people make mistakes and crashes are inevitable.
"When you begin to focus on designing streets for people and for pedestrians first, then safety often improves for all modes of transportation as a byproduct of that," he said. "We want to make sure that if a crash does happen, it happens at a slower speed, it happens less frequently, and there's less severity."
A 2009 New Jersey law prohibiting vehicles from parking within 25 feet of a crosswalk is seemingly oft-neglected, but not in Hoboken, where dangerous intersections are a primary focus for Sharp's department.
And because of the dearth of resources, assigning police or public safety officers to monitor potential offenders isn't a workable solution, so the city has worked to "automate" these crossings and improve their sight lines.
"Basically what you're doing is, you're putting something in that 25-foot clear zone, or no parking zone, that physically keeps vehicles from parking in that space," Sharp said.
That being said, strategies that worked in 2019, when Vision Zero was implemented, or now in 2022, may not prove to be the most effective by the time 2030 rolls around.
But the actions Hoboken has taken so far are proving "broadly popular" in numerous New Jersey communities, according to Sharp, and officials continue to keep an open mind with regard to what they can learn from other municipalities too.
"We always have to keep innovating, adjusting, and that's an innovative process that we share at a professional level with communities all across the country," Sharp said.