After the deadly crash on March 5 on Kennedy Boulevard in Union City that claimed the lives of two local teenagers and injured a third, little was said about the need to right-size the road following Complete Streets principles. Instead, local officials pointed to increased enforcement, pedestrian bridges and other methods that would do little to make the road safer. Even worse, local politician Senator Nicholas Sacco, who is also the Mayor of North Bergen, decided that Kennedy Boulevard is an old road and that it “would not be built the way it is now if things could be done all over again, but we’re stuck with it.” He further went on to declare that the road was “made for horses, wagons. At that point it was safe.”
While we are not “stuck with” a dangerous road, the Senator is correct that when the road was designed for horses and wagons, it was safe. But that design was long ago paved over when the road was widened, asphalt was laid down providing wide travel lanes to accommodate increasing automobile usage, and parking was added on both sides. This set the conditions for a high-speed thoroughfare through communities in Bayonne, Jersey City, Union City, and West New York. The welfare of our most vulnerable road users- pedestrians and bike riders – became subservient to the need to move automobiles through as quickly as possible, so that drivers are not inconvenienced.
But this mentality has resulted in Kennedy Boulevard having the distinction of being Hudson County’s most dangerous road since 2009, according to Tri-State Transportation Campaign. TSTC reports six pedestrian fatalities on Kennedy Boulevard in the years 2009 through 2011 and four pedestrian fatalities in the years 2011 through 2013. This in a state that consistently ranks at the bottom for pedestrian safety, with NJ’s percentage of road deaths attributable to pedestrians at twice the national average for every year since 2007, according to the Alliance for Biking & Walking’s Benchmarking Report on Bicycling and Walking in the United States. In other words, Kennedy Boulevard is among the most dangerous roads in the nation for pedestrians.
While the crash that took the lives of 17 year olds Noel Herrera of Cliffside Park and Bryan Rodriguez of Union City involved a vehicle traveling at an excessive rate of speed, it cannot be ignored that the design of the road permitted this level of speed to be achieved. Wide travel lanes, no center turning lane, no bump outs, no separate signalized pedestrian crossings, no bike lanes, no buffers, no median islands nor other traffic-calming street infrastructure enable vehicles to easily reach speeds above the posted speed limit. While the boulevard may have a 25 mph posted speed limit, its current design speed is likely closer to 50 mph, according to NACTO, the National Association of City Transportation Officials. It is a basic transportation engineering principle that wider travel lanes are correlated with higher vehicle speeds; NACTO, which provides guidelines for the design of safe urban streets, projects that 85% of cars traveling in lanes that are from 11.5 feet to 12.4 feet wide will be traveling above 45 mph. A pedestrian hit at 50 mph has a 25% chance of surviving a crash. Reducing travel speed should be priority one for this corridor, from Bayonne at its southern end to its northern end in West New York.
Following Complete Streets principles, such as lane narrowing, center turning lane, bike lanes, signalized pedestrian crossings, crosswalks, pedestrian median islands and other road infrastructure should be front and center in the planning and redesign of this corridor. Yes, this is an old thoroughfare, but it was once safe for people, and it can again be made safe for people.
Cyndi Steiner, Executive Director